Lenore Zann “Loved Every Minute” of Exploring Rogue’s ’X-Men ‘97’ Love Triangle

The MCU has been a massive part of the cultural zeitgeist, on both big and small screens, for the better part of two decades. This year, Marvel Animation went back to its roots with a nostalgia-filled blast-from-the-past and it paid off. X-Men ’97, the continuation of the beloved X-Men: The Animated Series, arrived on Disney+ back in March to immediate fanfare, and it carried that momentum through the entire season by delivering some of the best Marvel storytelling in years.

Following X-Men ’97‘s critical acclaim, from fans and critics alike, award season pundits began speculating that the series and its incredibly talented voice cast might be in the running this Emmy season, with a particular focus on the mid-season show-stopper “Remember It.” The episode took audiences by surprise as it revealed the depths of Rogue’s (Lenore Zann) romantic history with Magneto (Matthew Waterson), in juxtaposition to her complicated relationship with Remy LeBeau (A.J. LoCascio). But the shocking revelations in the episode paled in comparison to the tragedy that unfolded in the final moments, as Genosha’s mutants were met with the horrors of genocide and Rogue was left to grieve both Magneto and Remy, who sacrificed themselves to save her life.

With voting for Emmy Award nominations beginning on June 13, the campaign for X-Men ’97 has officially begun, and Collider was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Lenore Zann about her work on the series as things start to gear up this awards season. During our wide-ranging interview, Zann spoke about what it was like coming back to the role thirty years after The Animated Series, the life experiences she’s brought to the character and the lasting impact Rogue has had on her, the highly-discussed love triangle between Magneto/Rogue/Remy, and the freedom that she was given to bring her own take to some of the scenes in the series. Check out the full interview in the player above, or you can read on for the transcript below.

Real-Life Grief Played a Major Role in Shaping the Rogue of ‘X-Men ’97’

Rogue Magneto and Gambit looking worse for wear in formal outfits in Episode 5 of X-Men '97

COLLIDER: You’re in a really unique position because not many actors get to come back to a role that they originated 30 years previous, and you’ve also had a very remarkable life since X-Men: The Animated Series ended in the ‘90s. Do you feel like you have brought some of those life experiences to how you portray Rogue today?

LENORE ZANN: Absolutely. Yes. While I could have performed this whole season back when I was doing X-Men: The Animated Series, the fact that I’ve had life experiences that now can color my performances is actually, in some ways, a gift. The fact that I have now experienced the deep loss of a loved one, my little 17-year-old niece, Maia, who passed away from cancer after a huge struggle, watching her struggle, and then having her pass away and being with her on her deathbed and touching her, and she was cold was really an emotional experience. I decided that I would put all of my pain and grief into my voice so that others would hear it, and it would be authentic when Rogue loses Gambit. And I think, gathering from the online reactions from the fans and from talking to people at Comic-Con since then, it really affected them, and I’m glad. That’s good. I wanted to do that.

That leads me to my next question so perfectly. I know I’m not alone in saying that I grew up with Rogue. Rogue was a character that meant so much to me as a child. Your Rogue was my first introduction to the character, and even when I read the comics today, I still hear your voice as Rogue. What has it been like coming back to this role 30 years later and still meeting these people and getting to hear how your character impacted them so much then and is impacting them even more so today?

ZANN: It’s an amazing gift. It’s a gift for an actor to get a role like that the first time around, and then it’s another even greater gift, in a way, to be given this opportunity to flesh her out even more 30 years later. When I meet the fans, and I hear what we’ve meant to them, so many people say, “You were my childhood. I rushed home from school. I was being bullied at school, or I was abused, or I felt othered. I felt like I didn’t fit in, I was LGBTQ, and I didn’t know it, but suddenly I started to realize it’s okay to be different and that we can be accepted.” It’s so heartwarming and fulfilling to know that you’re making that kind of an impression on people both then and again now when so many people are sadly being attacked. There’s so much bigotry and homophobia out there, and I think our show came at a time when the world really needs us back again.

I absolutely agree. What is it like to go from a show that was a Saturday morning cartoon show to a show that is now the biggest hit on one of the biggest streaming platforms for one of the biggest studios making content out there today?

ZANN: It’s a dream come true, and it’s very surreal. But, you know, our show made such a difference in the ‘90s to so many people, and it has stayed with them. Like you said, we’ve been living rent-free in your head for 30 years! [Laughs] I should be paying you rent. But the fact that we did not have any social media then — there was no internet, there were no cell phones, there was no texting, there was no email, there was nothing — we had no idea of the effect we were having on people until five years ago when we were invited to a Comic-Con in Texas and we had a reunion. That was when we started to see how much our show had meant to people. Then we came to the LA Con that year, and there were, like, 100,000 people there going, “We love your show! You meant so much to us. You saved my life.” Some people say they were suicidal, but they wanted to see our show the next week and the next week and the next week. So, it’s really beautiful and very fulfilling to be able to connect with people both in real life now in Comic-Cons and such, and also online. The online X-Men community is just fantastic.

Lenore Zann Played a Part in One of Rogue’s Most Memorable Moments in “Remember It”

Magneto and Rogue holding hands and dancing in X-Men '97

It’s been very fun to dip my toes into that, as well, because, obviously, as a kid, I didn’t have any of that. I did want to zero in on one episode of the season, which is just a phenomenal episode. “Remember It” is undoubtedly one of the best 30 minutes of television I’ve watched in a very long time. I’m really curious to know what your reaction was when you got those scripts for the first time because it’s a very Rogue-centric episode, and it’s also an incredibly heavy episode on many fronts.

ZANN: It is. When I got the script, it reminded me of the first time I got the script in Season 1 of X-Men: The Animated Series for “A Rogue’s Tale.”

Yes!

ZANN: Because for the first time that time around, I think it was Episode 9, it was the first time you got to learn about Rogue’s origin story. It was a Rogue-centric episode, and so I was able to get all my emotions and all of my deep-seated feelings and emotions into my voice for that episode. Her loneliness, her wandering around the world trying to figure out where she fit in, I understand. I did that in my 20s. I just went traveling around the world, going, “Where do I fit in? What’s my purpose? Why am I here?” Which many young people do. So, I put all of that into my voice for that character at that time.

But this time around, it was great because, again, we get to flesh her out even more, to go inside Rogue and see the depths of her passion and the emotions that she’s been stuffing inside, really, for so long because she couldn’t touch anybody, and so she always had to hold herself back. There was a part of her where she could never let herself go because she’s afraid if she does, she will hurt somebody that she loves, she will kill someone that she loves. So, she always has to have that armor on. Like whenever Gambit was trying to get a kiss, “You can drain my powers any day, sugar!” Or she’s like, “What do you want? You want to end up in the hospital?” So now we get to really see the depths of her emotion when she loses her soulmate and is witness to a genocide. That is a gift as an actor. Bring me more! I love these emotional scenes, and I’ve had a lot of practice doing them in theater, in particular, playing very interesting roles that are deeply emotional roles, and I look forward to doing more onscreen, as well.

When you’re in the recording booth, and you’re working with so many of these extreme emotions — especially in “Remember It,” you have love and loss and everything in between — what are you thinking of in ensuring that the performance that you’re giving is being translated to the audience and they’re receiving what you’re offering them?

ZANN: I always say voice acting is acting. When young people say, “Oh, how do you become a voice actor?” I’m like, “Look, I’m an actor.” I started off doing theater, live theater, doing musicals, and straight plays. Then I moved into television and film, and then I went into animation years later, really. X-Men was only my second animated series. I was 31 when I started doing X-Men, and 36 by the time we had our last season. So now I am able to put even more into my voice to be able to ensure that people can hear the emotion because they can’t see your face, but they can hear you.

The voice has always been a powerful instrument for humanity for eons, from caveman days when they would be around a fire telling a story, singing their stories throughout history. And so I feel like I’m part of a long line of actors, of magicians, almost, of soothsayers, of oracles who cast your spell and then use your voice to take the audience on a journey and hopefully move them to the point of catharsis, and then bring them back again so that they are back in their own world again, and they’re going, “Where was I? What just happened?” It’s a gift, and I’ve honed my craft, and it’s an honor to be able to use it in this way to try and help people heal their own wounds and their own grieving.

You are receiving the critical acclaim that you deserve for those catharsis moments that you bring to us, and it’s really been incredible to see the reactions to all of it.

ZANN: It’s amazing. I’m humbled, and I’m honored. I just know, too, that, having been in politics as well for 12 years, I’m a member of parliament and things like this in Canada, I know how damaged people are right now. I know the suffering that’s going on, even just witnessing all the deaths piling up, both during the pandemic and all these awful wars. Many, many people have lost loved ones through COVID, and we were so isolated that we couldn’t connect. Humanity needs to connect. We need that human touch, so to speak, right? So, I felt like if I could make people feel their feelings with my voice, hopefully, I would make them get in touch with their own grief and their own sense of loss and, therefore, be able to have a cathartic moment and then come out the other side and have it be therapeutic. And it sounds, from what I’m hearing, that that has happened.

I went online a couple of times and did some videos talking to people, saying, “If you’re feeling your feelings, good! That’s what you need to do. Don’t be afraid to cry.” Telling men, grown men, “It’s okay to cry!” Large, tall men come up to me at Comic-Con, going, “Oh, you made me almost cry.” I’m like, “Almost cry? Come on.” He’s like, “Yes, you made me cry! Oh my god, I’m crying now. I’m sorry!” I’m like, “Don’t be sorry.” I said, “Do you need a hug? Would you like a hug?” And they’re like, “Yes, please.” [Laughs] I get up, and I hug them, and I tell them, “It’s okay. Feel your feelings. That’s good. It’s healthy.”

I love it. There’s so much power in animation. I think a lot of people undersell just how powerful animation can be, and X-Men is a testament to that in a lot of ways. I spoke with Matthew [Waterson] last week and one of the things I really enjoyed hearing him talk about was a lot of the ways that things evolved in the recording room, scenes changed a little bit, and lines changed a little bit. I think there are some lines in “Remember It” that you tweaked in the process, and it was a collaborative experience. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you were moving things around and working with the team to find Rogue’s voice in these moments?

ZANN: In the scene where Rogue comes down from the ceiling, which is a great entrance, I wish I could do that, she floats down from the ceiling, and then she and Magneto have this dance, this very sensual dance, and touch palm to palm — which always reminds me of Romeo and Juliet, the electricity between them — and then they kissed. The first line was always, “Thanks for the dance.” So I said, “I’m gonna add a “sugar” there. “Thanks for the dance, Sugar.” Then they had another line written there, and I don’t remember what it was, but I said to Beau DeMayo, who was there with Meredith Layne directing me, “I have an idea of something that Rogue should say there. Is it okay if I try it?” And they’re like, “Yeah, go ahead.” So I said, “Thanks for the dance, Sugar, but Remy was right. Some things are deeper than skin.” And I said that because he had already said it earlier in that episode, and I thought it would just empower that. And that is the message — that love, true love, is deeper than skin. Especially for somebody who can’t touch people, but for any of us. They kept it, and I’m so thrilled that they did because I think it’s an important moment. And then all hell breaks loose.

Lenore Zann Has Had Fun With the ‘X-Men ’97’ Love Triangle

Rogue pressing her hand over Gambit's lips and kissing him as he holds her during a basketball game in X-Men '97

[Sighs] Yeah. I really appreciate the way that whole love triangle has been played out in the series because both men are so respectful of Rogue, which you don’t always see when shows play with the love triangle dynamic. What was your reaction when you got to those scripts early on in the season and saw that they were going to delve into the Rogue and Magneto dynamic? That’s something I really liked in the comics, but then I realized a lot of people didn’t even realize that was a thing that happens in the comics. That was so fun to see people’s reactions.

ZANN: I know. I agree! [Laughs] I mean, to be honest, when I first read it, I was like, “Oh, good. This is spicy! This is gonna be a little bit of spice to throw in with that sugar. I can have fun with this.” But there was a part of me that was like, “Oh, I wonder how the fans are gonna react?” Because there are so many Rogue and Gambit fans, they call themselves Romy’s, and I’m like, “They’re not gonna be too happy about this. It’ll be interesting to see how they react.” But as an actor, it’s always great to get those kinds of things because it gives you some more stuff that’s fun to play with.

Of course, you gotta understand where Rogue’s coming from. When she’s in the dance club, and she’s watching everybody touching and moving their bodies and everything, and she’s like, “Yeah, I can never do that,” I hoped that the audience would understand where she’s coming from. Many of them did, and then a lot of other ones were pissed off. But then people who are comic book lovers knew that it’s been in the comics, and they were correcting them online, going, “No, no, no. This has happened in the comics.” In fact, in another universe, she has a child, she has a baby with Magneto! [Laughs]

Baby Charles! And Magnus, too. It happens.

ZANN: Right. So, you know, what the hell? I think it’s great. I loved every minute of it.

I can say, as somebody who grew up loving Rogue and Gambit, there’s also a lot of room in my heart for Rogue and Magneto, so it’s fun that the series took those risks. That’s what’s so fun. I mean, X-Men has always been a soap opera, and so we’re really getting those soap opera dynamics here.

ZANN: Yes, it was a lot of fun to play. Matthew Waterson, who plays Magneto, and A.J. LoCascio, who is the new Gambit, and I all get along really well now in real life, so we had a lot of fun with it, and with memes that were popping up about us, about the characters. Oh my god, and we’d throw them at each other. We’d tweet them at each other and stuff, and just yank each other’s chains just for fun. It was great.

It’s so much fun to see the reactions online to that. I know a lot of the conversation for the show has been about the love triangle, but there’s so much other stuff for Rogue that happens in the season, as well. I love Kurt being in this. I love that we got so much of Rogue and Kurt because that’s such an important relationship in her life. What were the different dynamics that you got to play with in X-Men ‘97 that were really exciting for you to play with?

ZANN: I really loved the fact that in Episode 7, she is still on her grieving path. Anybody who’s studied or knows anything about grief or experienced it knows you go through different levels of grief, and different emotions come up. So, anger comes up for many people, like, “Why did it have to happen to him? Why did it have to happen now?” Some people want revenge, and there are wars that are going on where people are like, “I want revenge.” So, Rogue is expressing all of that in Episode 7. She has gone past her crying and falling apart stage, and now she just wants justice, and she wants revenge. Which is why, when she finally lets Trask drop — which I would never recommend, I’m not in favor of murder, I’m not in favor of any of that, killing people — was she justified for that? That’s for the audience to figure out for themselves. But she’s on a tear. Rogue goes rogue, and to be honest, as an actor, I loved every minute of it. [Laughs]

It’s fun when you get to play not, I don’t want to say play “evil” for this situation, but getting to play the extremes of emotions. You get so much more fulfillment from it.

ZANN: Yes! Absolutely. Like I said, as an actor, give it to us! Give us the emotional stuff. I love playing it and I love doing it on screen. I love doing it in theater and I love doing it in animation, as well. So, it’s been a real gift for an actor. I’m just really honored and so grateful to have had this opportunity.

I would say that Rogue is arguably one of the strongest X-Men characters that we have pretty much ever seen. The Animated Series did really well with exploring that, as did X-Men ‘97, and I’m curious for you, what does it mean to you to get to play such a strong female character?

ZANN: It’s so important. So many women have told me that Rogue, for them, was the first time they really saw somebody that they could relate to, and Storm, as well, of course, and that they could relate to us being these strong, powerful superheroes. It’s interesting because representation is very important. You need to be able to look at a show or a story onscreen and be able to see yourself somewhere, which is why I think it’s wonderful to have these characters. I feel like we’re doing a service for young women and for women everywhere.

Now new little young children are coming up to me, six and seven years old, telling me they love Rogue and she’s so strong and she’s so powerful. One little six-year-old girl told me just recently that she loves X-Men ‘97. I said, “Aren’t you scared?” She’s like, “No, it’s exciting.” She said, “And Rogue’s my favorite.” She said, “I’ve watched Episode 5 six times!” [Laughs] I’m like, “Wow!” And then the father is there, and I’m like, “Really?” He’s like, “Yeah, she keeps asking for it.” I said, “Do you talk to her about it?” He says, “Oh, yes. We talk about death and what it is. It’s good.” It’s a way to be able to talk to the kids about these important issues that are gonna come at some point and affect them one way or another, so that is very exciting.

That’s great. I love that so much. At the top of the conversation, we talked about the aspects of your life that you’ve been able to bring to Rogue, but I’m curious, when actors get to play a character for a long enough time, those characters kind of become a little piece of them. They leave a little something behind. What attributes of Rogue do you feel have had a lasting impact on you?

ZANN: Wow, that’s a great question. Thank you for that. I love Rogue’s get-up-and-get-out-of-your-own-misery attitude. I mean, she’s tough but she’s vulnerable. She doesn’t take fools lightly, but she’s also very, very focused on sticking up for the underdog, for anyone who is being picked on, abused, or misused by someone else, and I love that about her. I don’t know what comes first, the chicken or the egg, whether I was already like that, which I was, but we just blend. Then, when I went into politics, I was able to use that same energy to fight for people who usually don’t have a voice, and many times I thought of Rogue and I thought, “Rogue would be so happy to see me here doing this.” In parliament, some of the younger members would be like, “Lenore, I dare you to do Rogue while you’re doing this speech. Let’s hear some Rogue!” [Laughs] I’m like, “No, I can’t do that. I take the House of Commons in Parliament too seriously. I’m not gonna do that.”

That would have been very funny.

ZANN: It would be! “Rogue Goes to Parliament.”

Hey, I’m just saying, I would trust her. She was almost in charge of Genosha.

ZANN: True. That’s right. By the way, I have a memoir that I wrote called A Rogue’s Tale that’s coming out in September. That talks about a lot of all this stuff and my life and my career and the X-Men, the first whole series, X-Men: The Animated Series, and a little bit about going into politics, as well, as a female politician, which, it ain’t easy, as you can imagine.

Yes, seriously.

For my last question for you, I know you’ve already recorded Season 2 so you know kind of what’s going on there, but I’m curious, with the finale of Season 1, they’re stuck in Egypt, they’re stuck in the past. They’ve got young Apocalypse here, and Rogue gives Erik this look, and they’re all kind of shocked by this situation. What’s going through her mind in those final minutes of the episode?

ZANN: First of all, she’s probably wondering if there’s some way Apocalypse could help bring back Remy.

Okay. I mean, it’s happened in the comics!

ZANN: She’s also just stunned as to, “Oh my god, what is happening now? Wait a minute. We just went through this whole major roller coaster, and now we’re here, and we’re back in the past?” It’s so fascinating. I’m thrilled by it. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so people are just gonna have to watch and see what happens. It’s a story, let it play out, and keep the faith!

The first season of X-Men ’97 is streaming now on Disney+. Stay tuned to Collider for more updates as we approach Season 2.

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