Catching up with with cast of the X-Men ’97 Animated Series at C2E2 2023

The last episode of the X-Men: The Animated Series, “Graduation Day”, aired approximately 25 years ago. It was a somber finale as the X-Men said goodbye to Charles Xavier, watching as Lilandra took Charles off world to place him under Shi’ar care after being shot by Henry Gyrich. The X-Men are left on Earth standing side by side with Magneto, and the scene wraps with a snippet of the iconic theme.

In 2021, Disney announced the series would be revived as X-Men ’97. The Big Comic Page caught up with six of the returning cast members at C2E2 in Chicago to discuss the good old days and how it felt for them to be called back into action.

After suffering a personal loss, Lenore Zann (the voice of Rouge) received the call asking her to reprise her role as the Southern Belle. Zann said, “It came at the right time.”

Prior to the official announcement there were rumors Disney would reboot the series. Calvin Dodd (Wolverine) recalls putting out the call to fans to let Disney know that they wanted the original cast to return. The campaign worked, but Dodd revealed that Disney still made him audition “for my role of the voice I created.” He was stunned when got the news that he got the role (again), but “nothing comes easy for the X-Men.”

If you’re curious, the re-audition scene Dodd read comes from the episode “Cold Vengeance” (season 1, episode 6.) In it, the elder of an Inuit village has an intimate conversation with Wolverine. “It made me happy too. I don’t know how to handle it. It feels so strange. I feel… at peace.”

Dodd responded to the scene saying it was different than Wolverine’s aggressive attitude. It was quiet, introspective, and Wolverine was finally happy.

George Buza (Beast) and Alison Sealy-Smith (Storm) were worried about whether they still “had it.” Buza stated he rewatched several episodes to remind himself of how Beast’s voice sounded. However, he mentioned that the studio wanted the actors to use their natural voices.

Even after receiving that note, Buza wanted to recreate the character’s voice as close to the performance he gave 31 years ago, citing that everything ages for a person over the years, including their voice. Sealy-Smith said, “I had no idea if I could do this or not, but I read a few lines and went oh she’s a queen. I can do that! And sometimes you just have to dig deep to find your inner goddess.” She also mentioned that she would practice Storm’s voice and summon the whirlwind out back on the veranda of her Barbados home while looking out onto the water.

Zann also told us the story of how she – and by extension the rest of the world – almost missed out on her voicing Rogue. “My agent called me, and she said Lenore they’re looking for someone with a deep, husky, sexy voice who can do a southern accent and she said that’s you. But I blew off the first audition.” A month later, her agent called back saying “They still haven’t found the right actress for this part because it’s you! Get your ass in gear, get down to the studio, and audition. I walked into the studio and saw the drawing with Rouge with her hand on her hips, and I thought yeah, I can do that. I walked into the booth and the first lines were, ‘My daddy like to kill himself when he found out I was a mutant!’ The producers in LA screamed when they heard the voice saying, ‘That’s the voice we’ve been looking for! Don’t let her leave the building.’”

The majority of the cast revealed that Project X – the working title for the series – was their first venture into voice acting. Chris Potter plays the charismatic and suave X-Man Gambit. As it turns out, the actor was very insecure. Potter constantly checked in with the people recording his lines for direction and to ensure it was the best possible take. Adding to the pressure, Potter talked about one of his first encounters with Norm Spencer – the late actor behind Cyclops – who questioned Potter’s reading, asking “Is that how you’re going to do it?” Potter says it was all in good fun, but jokingly cites the incident as a source of his continual insecurities.

The cast acknowledged that the series was ahead of its time. Buza even suggested sending a copy of the series to congress. But the revival seems to be coming at the right time with Zann reminding us that acceptance of one another’s differences and oneself is needed more than ever. Catherine Disher (Jean Grey) echoed the sentiment, adding that being different isn’t a weakness. It should be seen as a strength.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t reveal much about the details of the revival per the NDAs (nondisclosure agreements) and Disney lawyers. Dodd said the recording process takes place over several different studios, so he didn’t have much interaction with the actors who will be stepping into the roles of Magneto and Cyclops. He also mentioned that the studio they used is the same one they recorded the original series. When asked how it felt to return to the same recording space, Dodd said, “It was magical.”

A lot of the stories told in the series were meticulously adapted from the comics. The cast could not comment on the storylines that might be adapted in the upcoming series, but Zann and Disher – who admitted to not reading comics but watching a lot of animation – wanted to reassure fans that the writers and people behind the scenes are not just fans of the comics, but they also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the history and lore of these characters, saying the series is in good hands.

The character models revealed Magneto’s redesign, which has led fans to speculate whether or not a story like “The Trial of Magneto” could be included. Dodd told a story about the latest recording sessions, in which the director told him to turn to a page that wasn’t in his script, when Dodd said he didn’t have that page. “The director responded saying ‘oh yeah, never mind. You’re not supposed to see that.’ They’re keeping secrets from us, bub,” said Dodd.

The only thing Zann could tell us about the new series was, “When I get the scripts and I start to read them, I can’t put them down until I’m completely finished. I see it, I hear it, they’re so good, they’re so exciting. They keep you at the edge of your seat. So, strap on your seatbelts because you’re in for a wild ride.”

X-Men ‘97 is set to air on Disney+ in fall 2023.

The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511

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