Lenore Zann, Rogue of X-MEN ’97, on Gambit, Magneto, and Season 2

Spoiler Alert

Actress Lenore Zann has been providing the distinctive Southern belle voice of Rogue since the first episode of X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992. Now, 25 years since the last episode aired, she reprised the role for the Disney+ continuation, X-Men ’97. The show took everyone by surprise by just how excellent the writing and acting were, eclipsing the classic series. And a large part of why it was so good was Rogue’s unexpected character journey, which in many ways was the main emotional thread of the series. And it was all played brilliantly by Zann, without missing a beat. We chatted with Zann about returning to Rogue after all this time, and what the future holds for the sassiest X-Man at Xavier’s School.

Actress Lenore Zann (L), voice actress for X-Men '97's Rogue (R).
Marvel Animation

Nerdist: So many old TV shows have had revivals recently after decades away, usually to mixed results. Did you ever think X-Men ’97 might end up as something that didn’t live up to the original ’90s series?

Lenore Zann: No. I really thought it would be a huge hit. Judging from the fans that we’ve been meeting over the last five years at Comic Cons, who just loved the original show and couldn’t wait to see more episodes of a new show. And we had no idea that a new show was going to be happening until about three years ago, I guess 2021. But as soon as I got the scripts, I knew they were going to be good. I knew it was going to be good, because really that’s what it was the first time around. The scripts were so damn good. The writing was excellent. It’s the same this time, too. Without a script, you don’t have anything. And the scripts were amazing.

Rouge kind of had the most iconic moments of the season, from throwing Captain America’s shield to going full rampage on the military base. You could see she had the biggest character arc of the season. Which of all of the moments was the most fun for you to play?

Rogue holds Captain America's shield in season one of X-Men '97.
Marvel Animation

Zann: Well, of course I loved the meeting with Captain America and throwing his shield.
“Well, if your hands are tied, I guess you won’t be needing this.” So that was a lot of fun. But to be honest, also the emotional scenes with both Remy and Magneto in episode five. And then of course, the sad, tragic loss of my loved one, my soulmate Gambit. That was a gift for an actor to be able to play those beats and those emotions and be able to use my own personal emotions and experience to channel them into my character.

It had literally been 25 years since you played Rogue in the original X-Men series. Was it like riding a bike, or did you have to learn to be that character again?

Zann: I liken it to putting on a pair of well-worn, very fine, very comfortable gloves. You just put them on. You haven’t had them on for many years, and they just fit, and they feel good. For me, that’s how it is with Rogue. She is a part of me, and there’s a lot of me in her. So yeah, it was just a joy to come back to Rogue again.

For the entire original series, Rogue’s only romantic interest was Gambit. But for X-Men ’97, you got to have a romantic storyline with Magneto. What was it like for you to play a totally different romantic dynamic with someone else in the series?

Rogue and Magneto flirt in secret in X-Men '97.
Marvel Animation

Zann: Well, it was great. Again, for an actor, any of these scenarios are fun to play. But I did wonder if the public, if our fans would be upset because there are so many Gambit fans. and Rogue and Gambit, “Romy,” as they call them, fans. But it was fun. And I also knew where Rogue was coming from, that she really wanted to touch somebody and to be able to have that physical connection.

So in the scene in episode five, where she kisses Magneto, she comes down out of the ceiling, which is a great entrance. And then they dance very seductively, and touch palms like Romeo and Juliet almost. And then they kiss. But then she pulls away from that kiss and she says, “Thanks for the dance, sugar.” And then there was another line there, and I don’t remember what it was, but I said to [former X-Men ’97 showrunner] Beau DeMayo, who was there directing me, and I said, “Would it be okay if I said something else instead? Can I try something?”

Rogue and Magneto dance together in X-Men '97 episode 5, Remember It.
Marvel Animation

He said, “Sure, try it.” And I said, “Thanks for the dance, sugar. But Remy was right. Some things are deeper than skin.” He had already said that earlier in the episode, and I just thought that that would be the button that was needed to let people know, love, true love, is deeper than skin. And on another level, it doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter what skin color. Love, it transcends everything. And it’s the same for the LGBTQ community. So I thought it would really sing, and they kept it in. So I’m really happy about that.

You just mentioned the LGBTQ community, which I’m a part of. We have a huge connection to the X-Men. I think more than any other major nerd property actually. Do you have any stories of queer people coming up to you, talking about what Rogue and the X-Men have meant to them?

Zann: Absolutely. I was really pleased and honored to be able to be in the West Hollywood Pride Parade. And I went with my friend Morph, JP Karliak, and we had a convertible and we had a bunch of X-Men cosplayers, about 30 walking with us. And I thought that it was so important to be able to be there and make the statement that, “Hey, we are allies. We are yours. We belong to this community, too. And that we support you.”

So yeah, actually even since that parade, I’ve had two different young men come to me. I was in the Apple store, and I was having dinner somewhere else in Hollywood. And two different people said, “I saw you in the parade. I’m in the LGBTQ community. Thank you so much for being there. It meant a lot to us. And you made my childhood. You made us feel safe. Your show was a safe place for us to go. I could relate to Rogue. I’ve always loved Rogue.” It was really heartwarming. And this is what we hear over and over again.

Episode 5 was the turning point for the series. It’s when X-Men ’97 went from being just a nostalgic exercise, taking things to another level. And it had Rogue’s most heartbreaking moment, when she cradles Gambit’s dead body and says “I can’t feel you.” This asked you to go places as an actor the classic show never did. How did it feel getting to play the same character in a more grown-up and emotionally real setting?

Rigue cradles the body of her love Gambit, in X-Men '97 episode 5, Remember It.
Marvel Animation

Zann: No, because I’ve always been an extremely emotional actor. I have no problem going to the depths of my emotions and channeling them into a performance. And I’ve been known for doing a number of very strong performances, particularly in theater. When I was 19, I was discovered to play the role of Marilyn Monroe, in a rock opera about her life. And I was only 19 when I got it, and it was called Hey, Marilyn. I had to play her from the age of 16, all the way through her Hollywood years as Marilyn Monroe, to her final denouement at 36 when she died. And I had to do it all on a song on stage with 2000 people. So that was what kickstarted my career. If I can do that, then I can do anything.

You know a show has struck a nerve when it’s got plenty of memes, and the meme game for X-Men ’97 was wild. One of them had Rogue replicating the Kill Bill poster, saying “Kill Ya’ll” after Gambit died. What was it like seeing the reactions week to week, with the fandom so engaged? 

Zann: It was very funny. AJ LoCascio, who plays Gambit, and Matthew Waterson, who plays Magneto, we all get along really well. And we’ve all got a really good sense of humor. So we were sending each other these memes. But also, they were making memes about stuff we were doing in real life. Like when we went to a dinner with a whole bunch of people. And suddenly all the people were in one end of the room, and AJ was sitting by himself at one of the tables, and I was sitting with Matthew. I said, “Let’s do a photograph with AJ, showing him in his Gambit crop top by himself, over there at the table, and we’ll just gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes.” And then they shared that on social media, and then that became a meme. It was hilarious. It was a lot of fun.

After Genosha and Gambit’s death, Rogue chooses to go and join Magneto. Did that twist surprise you when you read it in the script, or was it something they told you Rogue was going to do from the get-go?

Rogue fights Bastion in the X-Men '97 season one finale.
Marvel Animation

Zann: No, they didn’t tell me from the beginning. Again, I just found out as I got each script what was going to be happening, which I like it that way, so that I’m surprised as well. And then I can delve into it. But Rogue started off as a villain. And in these comic books, sometimes the heroes become the villains, back and forth, for various reasons. So I found that I thought it was very interesting.

And I thought, in a way, it made sense for Rogue at that point to find out that A: Magneto didn’t die. And B: that she’s starting to think that he could be right. As they say, “Magneto was right.” Which I think shows that Rogue, she wants to get vengeance. She wants to get justice for Remy, and also for all of the people that were killed in that genocide. And so she does what she does for a reason. But I am glad she came back by the end.

Are the any plotlines from the original series you wanted to see followed up on in X-Men ’97 that weren’t? I was a bit surprised the Rogue and her mother Mystique never had a moment.

Rogue and her adoptive mother Mystique in the original X-Men: The Animated Series.
Marvel Animation

Zann: I think it would be fun at some point to have some scenes again with Mystique. I’m not sure when it will come. We didn’t have any in this particular season. But I’m always interested in her relationship with Mystique because it’s definitely fraught with a lot of emotions. And anybody who’s ever had any mother issues can relate. But I was glad to see Nightcrawler playing a large role, and that was really lovely. The scenes between Rogue and Nightcrawler, Mystique’s son and her adoptive brother. I love it.

It was great that X-Men ’97 was a true ensemble show and not just the Wolverine show. Having said that, you and Cal Dodd didn’t have a ton of moments together. Can we hope to see some more Rogue and Logan moments in season two?

Rogue, Gambit, and Nightcrawler celebrating on Genosha in X-Men '97.
Marvel Animation

Zann: I can’t say. But there were a lot more Rogue and Storm moments in the original show as well. And in this show, they played up Jean and Storm being really close friends. Storm is one of my favorite characters, I just love her. And I think the way Alison Sealy-Smith plays her, with her incredible voice. She is like a goddess. And she’s done so much theater in Stratford and things like this. She’s perfect for the role. So I hope I get to do some more stuff with Storm in the future as well. And of course, Cal and Alison and I, and George Buza as Beast, we’re all good friends. And it’s always great to see them at Comic Cons when we have these various reunions.

Yeah. So where are you guys now with season two? Not in terms of what it’s going to be about, but have you guys recorded your lines? Where are you guys at?

Zann: I’ve recorded all my scenes for the whole season. A lot of people have, but a lot of people still need to be recorded. But the animation is what takes a long time. So they usually start with our voices, it’s called pre-lay. And then they do the animation to the voices. And then we come back for cleanups or pickups or line changes and things like that. Yeah, I’m excited and I can’t wait for season two to air, and I hope people really like it like they liked the first season.

A grieving Rogue fights Sentinels in X-Men '97 episode 5, Remember It.
Marvel Animation

What are your hopes for the future of Rogue going forward into, not just season two, but maybe season three and four, if we get that?

Zann: I am happy to do whatever the writers choose to do. I’m an actor at the end of the day. I take writers’ words and I try to make them live and breathe. And I’m up for anything really. I love her journey so far. I love her journey in season two. And I’m just looking forward to seeing where she goes from here. But at the end of the day, it is, we are a team and we have an amazing team. The artists, the writers, the music, the composers, the Newton brothers, the entire cast, the producers, the directors. It’s like lightning in a bottle. The way Larry Houston, our original director, likes to call it. He said, “We had lightning in a bottle the first time around, and we’ve had lightning in a bottle a second time,” which is just amazing.

When we first met the original writers again, Eric and Julia Lewold and Larry Houston. for the very first time, it was five years ago at a Comic Con in Texas where we were all invited to come. Cal Dodd, me, the rest of them, and the writers and the director. We had never met before, because back in the ’90s, we were performing in a studio in Toronto. And they, of course, were all in Los Angeles. And there were no cell phones then. There was no internet.

Rogue flies into battle in X-Men '97.
Marvel Animation

So we would record together in a group with a circle of microphones in the studio, and then they’d send the tapes to Los Angeles. I think they FedExed them or something. So when we finally met, we got along so well. And we all went out for a dinner one night at the end of this Comic Con five years ago, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody bought the rights to the X-Men, and decided to reboot the animated series and brought us all back again?” And we said, “Let’s toast to that, and let’s put it out there to the universe to manifest.” I’d like to have seven seasons and an animated film. And then a spin-off with Gambit and Rogue. I’d like to do that, too.

All episodes of X-Men ’97 are now available to stream on Disney+.

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