X-Men The Animated Series: What Happened To The Original Voice Cast?
When “X-Men: The Animated Series” premiered in 1992, Marvel’s team of mutant superheroes was hardly a household name. “X-Men: TAS” introduced an entire generation to Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and company via faithful adaptations of classic comic book storylines like “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” The series is also notable for ushering in (along with “Batman: The Animated Series,” which debuted that same year) a more serious, dramatic approach to superhero cartoons. These character-centric stories called for nuanced voice acting, which was so uncommon in animation at the time that showrunner Eric Lewald threw out an entire set of actors who had been cast for the series but simply didn’t get the approach.
In their place, the producers assembled a new group of Toronto screen, stage, and voice actors to lend voice to the X-Men and their foes. Outside of a guest appearance on another Marvel cartoon or the failed pilot “Pryde of the X-Men” that aired only once, this would be the first time any of the X-Men would be heard on screen, and these portrayals would go on to define the characters for a generation.
The impact of “X-Men: The Animated Series” has been so enduring that Disney+ has given the green light to a revival, entitled “X-Men ’97,” which will reunite most of the original cast for new adventures set just after the previous series ended. These actors have continued to contribute to film, television, and video games in the intervening years, though some have left us forever.
Cal Dodd is a voiceover artist for hire
Irish-Canadian singer and actor Cal Dodd was the voice of Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, not just on X-Men: The Animated Series but several classic video games for Capcom such as “Marvel vs. Capcom.” Dodd credits himself as the original voice of Wolverine, though that’s not strictly true — voice actor William Callaway lent his voice to Wolverine in a 1982 episode of “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends,” and Patrick Pinney performed as Wolverine in the animated TV pilot “Pryde of the X-Men” in 1989. It’s worthwhile noting that both actors gave Wolverine an Australian accent for some reason — yet the character has always been from Canada.
These appearances were rarely seen and mostly forgettable, so when Cal Dodd got the role in 1992, he was starting from scratch. Dodd invented Wolverine’s signature gravelly tone, which he also brought to six Capcom fighting games between 1994 and 2000. As Dodd told The Nerd Lys, his performance was considered such an essential part of the Wolverine character that, when cast to bring the character into live-action film for the 2000 “X-Men” film, actor Hugh Jackman was assigned to study Dodd’s performance.
Since his last performance as Wolverine in 2000, Dodd has continued to lend his voice over talents to cartoons, commercials and jingles. He’s eager to return to the role of Wolverine in “X-Men ’97.”
Lenore Zann went into politics
Australian-born Canadian actor Lenore Zann began her career on the stage, performing the starring role as Norma Jean/Marilyn Monroe in the rock opera “Hey, Marilyn!” at the age of 18. She would return to the role decades later in the self-produced one-woman show “The Marilyn Tapes” in 2009.
Zann’s voice credits go all the way back to the original English dub of “Mobile Suit Gundam” in 1979, where she played Cromley Hamon. Aside from her iconic performance as Rogue on “X-Men,” Zann also made guest appearances on cult live-action sci-fi series such as Millennium, Lexx, and Andromeda. She continued to lend her voice to animated series such as “Rescue Heroes,” the English dub of the anime “Outlaw Star,” and the 2006 incarnation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” She also voiced another Marvel superhero, Tigra, on the series “Avengers: United They Stand” in 1999 and 2000. She’ll be back to reprise Rogue in “X-Men ’97.”
Outside of her life as an actor, Zann has also launched a political career, starting out in local government in 2009. In 2019, Zann ran successfully for a seat in the Canadian Parliament, representing Cumberland-Colchester, Nova Scotia. She served for one two-year term. She continues to work as a voice against climate change.
George Buza has a cameo in an X-Men movie
Canadian actor George Buza has appeared on film and television since 1978, often in bit parts. His most prominent role prior to becoming the voice of Beast on “X-Men: The Animated Series” was as Turner Edison on the sitcom “Maniac Mansion,” based upon the LucasArts video game. Of the principal cast of “X-Men,” Buza is the only one who was already familiar with the comics before the audition and came fully prepared to embody Dr. Hank McCoy. Busa would reprise the role in the 2000 video game “X-Men: Mutant Academy” and its 2001 sequel.
Buza is also one of only two members of the “X-Men” cast (along with Adrian Hough) to actually appear in a live-action X-Men movie, though in a very small role — Buza is the trucker who gives Rogue a lift to Loughlin City, where she meets Logan at the beginning of 2000’s “X-Men.” Buza also appeared as a mysterious, unnamed recurring character on the live-action, Marvel-licensed, quasi-X-Men TV series “Mutant X” from 2003 to 2004. Since then, Buza has featured sporadically on live-action and animated television series and independent films. He’ll be returning to the role of Beast in “X-Men ’97.”
Cedric Smith is not returning for X-Men '97
Born in Bournemouth, England, Cedric Smith is a naturalized Canadian actor and musician. In the 1960s, Smith co-founded the folk group Perth County Conspiracy, who toured and recorded until the mid-1970s, coinciding with the start of Smith’s TV acting career. He was a working screen actor in Canada throughout the ’80s before landing a regular role on the period drama “Road to Avonlea” from 1990-1996. The role earned him three Gemini nominations (similar to the Emmys in the US) for Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, winning one in 1993.
Smith lent his voice to 75 out of 76 episodes of “X-Men: The Animated Series,” with his Professor Charles Xavier departing Earth in the series finale, “Graduation Day.” This may account for his absence from the cast announcement for “X-Men ’97.” Smith was once married to castmate Catherine Disher, who portrayed Jean Grey.
Smith has continued to make guest appearances on live-action and animated television series, with his most recent credit being a two-episode run on “Mysticons” in 2018.
Catherine Disher is on The Hallmark Channel's Good Witch
Catherine Disher is one of the few members of the “X-Men” voice cast for whom the Marvel cartoon is one of her lesser-known performances. In 1992, the same year “X-Men” premiered, Disher also began a three-season run as the second lead on the vampire detective drama “Forever Knight.” In 2004, Disher won a Gemini Award for her performance in the miniseries “Snakes & Ladders.”
Her most prolific role would begin in the 2008 Hallmark Channel movie “The Good Witch,” where she plays the flustered local politician Martha Tinsdale opposite star Catherine Bell and “X-Men” castmate Chris Potter. Disher would reprise the role in six more “Good Witch” TV movies before the launch of the ongoing “Good Witch” television series, in which she appears in all 76 episodes. In the meantime, she’s continued to appear in a variety of Canadian dramas such as “The Border” and “Remedy.”
Disher will return to voice Jean Grey in “X-Men ’97.”
Alyson Court is a familiar voice in video games
Before winning the role of Jubilee in 1992’s “X-Men,” Alyson Court was already a familiar voice in animation, most notably as Lydia Deetz in the cartoon adaptation of Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice.” She is also recognizable in Canada for starring as Loonette in the live-action children’s show “The Big Comfy Couch.” Most famous among her voice credits, however, is her role as Claire Redfield in the “Resident Evil” video game series. Court is the English voice actor for Claire in six installments of the series, and served as Voice-over director and motion capture director for two additional titles. More recently, she has recurred as Arkanya Goodfrey on “Mysticons” and as Wendee Wyndlee on the rebooted “Inspector Gadget.”
Alyson Court will be joining the cast of “X-Men ’97” but has stated emphatically that she would not return to the role of Jubilee. “It was an honor to bring life & voice to such an iconic character in the original series,” said Court via her Twitter account in 2020, “but I know far too many talented young Asian actors who would do Jubilee justice now.” Court is expected to take on a new character in the rebooted series.
Norm Spencer passed away in 2020
Born in Vancouver, voice actor Norm Spencer had relatively few screen credits to his name when he first became Cyclops in 1992. Hoping to avoid the life of a starving actor, Spencer sought a way in via radio, where he unwittingly became a copywriter for advertisements, which he voiced himself.
Like much of the cast of the animated series, Spencer reprised his role in Capcom fighting games such as “X-Men: Children of the Atom,” “X-Men vs. Street Fighter,” and “Marvel vs. Capcom.” In 1998, Spencer guest starred as the voice of Drax the Destroyer in the animated “Silver Surfer” series. From 1999 to 2013, Spencer was the voice of Billy Blazes on “Rescue Heroes.” Spencer has said that his voice acting career was lucrative enough that he didn’t need to pursue very much on-camera acting (a reason why photos of him are so difficult to find), though he did appear in small roles on series like “Earth: Final Conflict” and “Majority Rules!” His final screen credit was in 2013.
In 2020, “X-Men” co-star Cal Dodd broke the news to fans via Twitter that Norm Spencer had passed away at the age of 62. As of this writing, no cause of death has been reported.
Chris Potter is a constant on Canadian TV
Concurrent to his role as Gambit on “X-Men,” Chris Potter was the star of the live-action drama “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.” Potter was not an experienced voice actor, but took the role seriously. Based on the script’s character reference, Potter developed a version of a Cajun patois using some of his own experience with French.
Later, he recurred on the series “Silk Stalkings” and “Queer as Folk” before becoming the second lead on Lifetime’s “Wild Card” in 2003. In 2007, Potter joined the cast of a new Canadian drama, “Heartland,” which would become by far his most prolific role. “Heartland” has run for over 15 seasons, with Potter appearing in more than 200 episodes. Potter was also a staple of the “Good Witch” series of TV movies, alongside “X-Men” castmate Catherine Disher, though he did not join the cast of the ongoing “Good Witch” television series (likely due to his commitment to “Heartland”).
Potter’s connection to the X-Men almost went much deeper than his 72 episodes as the voice of Gambit. Potter actually auditioned for the role of Cyclops in the first live-action X-Men movie in 2000, though he would’ve preferred to have played Gambit if given the opportunity. The role of Cyclops in “X-Men” eventually went to James Marsden.
Alison Sealy-Smith has acted and directed on stage
In 1993, Alison Sealy-Smith replaced Iona Morris, who portrayed Storm for the first season of “X-Men: The Animated Series.” Like everyone else who auditioned to take over the role, she was asked to listen to Morris’ performance. Sealy-Smith, though she grew up in Barbados, easily identified that Morris’ reference did not remotely match the description of Ororo Munroe as being from North Africa, so instead, as she told YouTube channel Marvel DC Galore, she aimed for a round “Shakespearean” bellow that would become closely associated with the character.
Storm was her first voice acting job, and she now feels that not having expectations about what a “cartoon” performance should sound like helped her to give the performance the show needed. Sealy-Smith would reprise the role of Storm in the “X-Men: Mutant Academy” video games. She was also the voice Gamora, Guardian of the Galaxy on “Silver Surfer.”
Sealy-Smith continued to work as an on-camera and voice actor throughout the 2000s, but she has had an extensive theatre career as both an actor and director. She is a founding member and former Artistic Director of the Obsidian Theatre Company in Toronto and Diasporic Arts Productions in Barbados, which she founded in 2009. Alison Sealy-Smith will be back as Storm for “X-Men ’97.”
David Hemblen died in 2020
Toronto actor David Hemblen had a long stage and screen career dating back to the late 1960s. He was an original member of Theatre Toronto, a company founded in 1967 that also included John Colicos, who would later guest-star as the voice of Apocalypse on “X-Men.” Prior to becoming “X-Men’s” Magento in 1992, Hemblen’s most prominent TV role was as a regular on “T and T,” a short-lived series that starred Mr. T as a private detective (this series also featured future X-Men co-star Catherine Disher). Hemblen began voice acting as far back as 1987 on “Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future,” which eventually led him to “X-Men.” Later, he would take on his most prominent role as Jonathan Doors in Gene Roddenberry’s “Earth: Final Conflict” from 1997 to 2000.
Hemblen retired from screen acting in 2007, and passed away in 2020 at the age of 79.
Don Francks left a lasting voice acting legacy
Portraying Sabretooth in “X-Men: The Animated Series” was but a small part of the career of actor and musician Don Francks. His screen resume begins in 1954, playing bit parts in Westerns. In the 1960s, he guest starred on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Francks was the original voice of Boba Fett in “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” and reprised the character in the “Star Wars: Droids” TV series in 1985. Perhaps most famously, he was also the voice of Inspector Gadget’s nemesis Dr. Claw. After “X-Men,” Francks went on to recur on “La Femme Nikita” from 1997 to 2001, and on the first season of “Hemlock Grove” in 2013.
While Francks died in 2016, his daughter Cree Summer remains one of the most recognizable and prolific voice actors of all time. Summer’s voiceover career began when she portrayed Penny on “Inspector Gadget,” opposite her father. She’s featured in over 300 productions since, but is probably best known as Susie Carmichael on Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats.”
Adrian Hough is busier than ever on television
Fan-favorite X-Man Nightcrawler actually appears in only three episodes of “X-Men: The Animated Series” and speaks in only two, both times voiced by Adrian Hough. Hough would also rejoin much of the “X-Men: TAS” cast to provide the voice of Nightcrawler in the video game “X-Men: Mutant Academy 2” in 2001. He also played a bit part in the feature film “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006, as Jean Grey’s father.
Hough’s other voice acting work includes portraying Cliff Hanger on the animated series “Rescue Heroes” (alongside fellow X-Men Lenore Zann and Norm Spencer), and Haytham Kenway in the video game 2012 “Assassin’s Creed III,” for which he received a BAFTA nomination. He reprised the role two years later in “Assassin’s Creed: Rogue.”
Hough has been a consistently working on-screen actor since the early 1990s, but his dance card has only gotten more full over time. Hough has guest starred on “Supernatural,” “Once Upon a Time,” “The Killing,” and other US broadcast and cable dramas. The streaming era has been particularly kind to Hough, as he’s had recurring and regular roles on “The Man in the High Castle,” “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “See,” and “Home Before Dark.” Hough will be back as Nightcrawler in “X-Men ’97.”