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Toronto Comicon Interview: Lenore Zann Talks ‘X-Men ’97’ and Reprising Her Role as Rogue from ‘X-Men: The Animated Series’

March 14, 2024Ben MK

For anyone who was a kid growing up in the '90s, the impact of a fan-favorite show like X-Men: The Animated Series can't be overstated. A Saturday morning staple for millions of children and teens around the world, the X-Men were more than just a group of mutants who regularly embarked on high-stakes adventures to save the world. Rather, their struggles, as fantastical as they may have been, paralleled the struggles young people faced daily in real life, and the show's themes of fighting against bigotry and fighting for inclusion and equality are just as relevant today, if not more so, as they were some three decades ago. Now, with X-Men '97, Marvel's iconic superhero team are back to finish what they started. And with some of the original voice actors returning as well, you can be sure that the nostalgia factor will be high for this highly anticipated sequel series.

To celebrate her appearance at Toronto Comicon, I caught up with actress Lenore Zann, who plays Rogue in both X-Men: The Animated Series and X-Men '97, to chat about returning to the role, and to find out what it means for her to be able to bring a new iteration of Rogue to a whole new generation of fans.

As one of the original X-Men: The Animated Series voice actors reprising their role for X-Men '97, what has it been like for you coming back to the character of Rogue after so many years?

Zann: I'll tell you, it's been pretty exciting. Who knew 30 years ago that our show would be having the kind of longevity where so many fans have made it really one of the top two animated series of all time. When we first did the show, there was no Internet, there was no social media, and so we were basically acting in a vacuum in Toronto, rolling out each season. [There] was not much of an idea of how successful it was and what kind of impact we were having on people. It's only been the last five years that we've actually realized the impact that the show has made on people's lives. And that's because we've been starting to go to different comicons, and also we've been seeing on social media the love being poured our way for the original show. Then when we got the call to come and do the new show, we couldn't believe it. Disney and Marvel have been fantastic, and the new cast is terrific. It's just a real love-fest, so it's great to be back. And I think that the fans are gonna really enjoy the new show.

Did your time away from the character present any special challenges that you had to overcome? What was your approach to finding Rogue's voice again, and did you do anything differently this time around?

Zann: I didn't do it differently because, really, the show picks up very shortly after the original show's last episode, Graduation Day, finishes. So there hasn't been much character development during that time. I just slipped right back into the Rogue that everybody knows and loves, and picked up right from where I left off. When I first walked into the studio to record my first few lines as Rogue this time around, I was a little nervous, wondering "Is she gonna be there?" But as soon as I opened my mouth and started talking with my Southern accent, it was like pulling on a pair of well-worn, comfortable gloves. Rogue was right there, and I realized, yeah, she's really a part of me.

A lot has changed in the world of Marvel, and comic book film and television adaptations in general. How does X-Men '97 address, or not address, the evolution of the medium since the original show aired?

Zann: I think that the new show will continue the themes that we established in the first show, and that are established in the comics as well. Obviously there's a lot going on in the world today, and there's a lot of miscommunication. There's a lot of sad happenings, wars, and also attacks on many different types of people — LGBTQ people, immigrants and racialized communities. And so our show will just continue to discuss these kinds of themes, and hopefully we can bring to a new generation of youngsters the idea that it's ok to be different. In fact, we're better together, with all of our differences, than we are apart. And we have more in common than we have different. That was a theme of the X-Men originally, and that's still the theme today. And I gotta say, I think it's time that the X-Men made a comeback, cuz we need to hear that message over and over again. Again, I think that the fans from the original show, who tell me that they're gonna be watching it with their children, are very excited to have those themes be imparted to this generation of kids growing up as well.

Speaking of evolution, there has also been some criticism online concerning the apparent changes to Rogue's appearance, specifically her body type, in the new show compared to her original look. What are your thoughts on these complaints from some members of the fan base?

Zann: First of all, the people that came out complaining about it [only] saw the trailer, where she was shown in a very quick blip across the screen. And I had one line. So I look at it as what makes somebody sexy — and somebody like Rogue, who is attractive to all kinds of people — is not just the body, but it’s the voice. It's the voice, it's the attitude, it's the mannerisms, it's the chemistry. And all of that is still there, and I think that when they actually see and hear Rogue in action, they're gonna go, "Yeah, there's my gal."

Looking back on the original series, do you have a favorite episode or moment that really stands out for you?

Zann: Yeah, I've got a few. Obviously, I loved Rogue's Tale, which is Rogue's origin story. That one was a really great opportunity for me to dig my teeth into the character and show people why she is the way she is. And then one of my other favorites is The Cure, where she goes to Muir Island because she wants to have a scientist remove the genetic makeup that makes her a mutant because she wants to be "normal." She wants to be like everybody else, so she thinks, so that she can fall in love, touch somebody skin to skin, be intimate, and ultimately possibly have a family. However, by the end of that episode, Rogue has come to almost a spiritual awakening.

She's come to the realization that her differences are her unique super powers — that, yes, they bring her pain sometimes, but they're also what makes her who she is. And that she can then use those powers in a way that nobody else can, to make the world a better place. And she decides that, "Hey, there ain't no cure for who you are," and she says, "I reckon I can use my powers for good, and I reckon I can live with that." That's another very powerful message for people who might be questioning, "Who am I, why am I being attacked for being different?" That, "Hey, it's ok to be who I am." You can't change who you are, and why should you even bother?

And when it comes to X-Men '97, what has been your most memorable moment from the new show?

Zann: Working with the team has been just a joy. People have been so kind, so thoughtful. The fans are in the creative team who've been making the show. They love our original show, they love our characters, and they've been extremely supportive of us coming back and rebooting the original series. I'm very excited for the fans to see how they feel. I'm pretty sure they're gonna love it. There'll always be people who don't get it, or who feel like, "Oh, the X-Men are too woke." But they didn't really get the message the first time around, I guess. The X-Men are all about being different and celebrating those differences, and trying to find a way through our oppositions and our tribal mentality, to try and come to some kind of healthy relationship with everybody on the planet.

Of course, the X-Men aren't just in cartoon form. They're soon to be coming back to the big screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Were you a fan of the previous movies, and was there anything missing from them that you're hoping will be rectified in the new films?

Zann: To be honest, I didn't really see all of them. I watched the first one, and I enjoyed it. I felt that [the way] they portrayed Rogue was interesting. She wasn't really the Rogue that we've come to know and love through the animated series. I think they made her more of like a cross between Jubilee and Rogue, maybe as a way of reaching out to a different, younger demographic. So I'll just be very interested to see how they portray her in the future. And hopefully it'll be closer to the original animated series.

Last but not least, what does it mean to you personally, to be able to bring a new iteration of Rogue to a new generation of X-Men fans, many of whom probably weren't even born when the original show aired?

Zann: Oh my goodness, I feel a great sense of responsibility, and I feel honored and humbled by the response of the fans to my work. Every actor dreams of touching people's hearts and souls and minds, and I'm really glad that my portrayal of this incredibly complicated character really has touched people in a way that I can't even describe. I'm glad that it has done that, and I hope that I continue to be able to do that for the generations to come. It's a great legacy to have, and to be continuing in.

I left acting for a while and went into politics in Canada, in Nova Scotia, became a member of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia for ten years, and then a member of Parliament, along with Prime Minster Trudeau. And I have a bill that's actually passing through the House right now, in the Senate. It's going to the Environment Committee, and it looks like it’s gonna pass, which means that my bill on environmental racism — it will be a national strategy to address environmental racism and environmental justice — is going to become law in Canada. And that, for me, is part of this legacy. Really, it's very fitting that Rogue would go to Parliament and do something like that. So I think the fans will be pretty excited about that as well.

Toronto Comicon runs March 15-17th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and X-Men '97 streams exclusively on Disney Plus beginning March 20th.

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