Voice of Optimus Prime Peter Cullen Talks Transformers Movie

Interview with Peter Cullen at Anime Matsuri 2007
By DragonX76

Peter Cullen was one of the Special Guests at the very first annual Anime Matsuri (means festival) 2007 hosted in the city of Houston, Texas on April 27 to 29. TFormers.com was there to cover Peter Cullen's Question and Answer session on Day 2 and Autograph Session on Day 3 of the event and also cover for our affiliated site Anime News International, so if Anime is your cup of green tea, head over there to AnimeNewsI.com to check out photo coverage Anime Matsuri!

With Peter Cullen's entrance into the panel room, he had a very warm welcome with cries of "We LOVE you Optimus Prime!" and "We LOVE you Eeyore!"

Question: Are you doing any of the other characters in the movie?

Cullen: I am only doing voice of Optimus Prime in the movie.

Question: What is your exposure of Optimus Prime in the 1984 original series compared to now for the movie?

Cullen: I had to audition for the original series just like any other actor when I received the "Cattle Call" that is sent to candidates to answer for the chance to be Optimus Prime, Iron Hide and Slugslinger. When there was a process change by the powers that be, I was bumped out of the original series in the original 1985 animated movie. I didn't understand why this happened and thought to myself "Did I Suck?" And because of the emotional impact left on their children from the death of Optimus Prime, the character was brought back from back from a backlash of responses by mothers. But the final project I've completed, I think I completed with Michael Bay, the movie itself, that was an ongoing process because I had to audition again. I mean at this point I couldn't care less. Okay, what the heck, I'm going to go in and find out what they want and of course they did, they wanted Optimus Prime with no changes and had they asked me to do changes in the character I would have declined. There's just no way.

Question: What inspired the voice of Optimus Prime?

Cullen: When I looked at the character drawings, which is what an actor gets presented to him when he's auditioning, I couldn't figure out what a truck would sound like. *Truck Noise Impression* But then when you read the character breakdown, what the substance of what this person was, what he's supposed to be and the qualities that he had, I modeled the voice actor after in this particular case after my brother Larry who was a former Marine and a captain of the Marine Corp. When he came home and he changed quite a bit and he was quiet, he was calmer, he was in control and I was very impressed by that and when we were younger, we were only 13 months apart and he would say *Larry Impression* "Peter! Cut it out! Gee Whiz!" and when he came how it was *Larry/Optimus Prime Voice* "Peter, cut it out" OPTIMUS PRIME!.

Question: Have you worked with any of the former cast and would you like to work with them again?

Cullen: We work along a lot today because actors are spread around the country but I did work with Frank Welker and Frank of course is Megatron in the game. We got together for the first time after a long time and it was great. He's one of the greatest guys, he's funny, he's a delight, he's a great human being and just a generous person to work with. Some, unfortunately I will never will again, they're gone but yeah, that would be fun. Those sessions were really draining sessions. They last three or four hours. Each Transformers series, game, took three or four hours to record and it wasn't easy. We had to scream literally on three different levels, you had to make grunts on three different levels, you had to be charging, attack sounds on three different levels and you can imagine a room full of guys in a straight line (Grunting on different levels) After they came out they had blood throat after a while, but they were fun, there were a lot of interesting things that happened around there"

Question: Did Michael Bay try to correct you about being Optimus Prime?

Cullen: He's a great director and I had no problems with him at all. He genuinely appeared to like my work. He never asked me to do anything, as a matter a fact he would say would Prime do this? And I would say, umm, maybe not, but you know the whole concept is different and very well could because here he is relating to human beings. In a live action scenario, he's talking to a young kid Spike Witwicky and so he had to become more human and that was one of the elements I worked on to make him generally more human in a sense of relating to a human being, talking one on one with one and even trying a few dumb one liners like he would throw out one like "eBay" and it's just so foreign for Optimus to say some of those things.

Question: How many actors did you work with from the movie?

Cullen: I didn't meet anybody. I worked alone. I only worked with Michael Bay and his assistant and in the sound stages down at Sony and Paramount.

Question: What did you think about the new movie designs and can you tell us a little about the movie?

Cullen: Well I haven't seen it and to answer your first part of the question, I was startled when I saw the new image. I saw a completed picture of it and I was startled and that is incredible, it's incredible. To get my brain focused on it I said you know, hey he's a truck. I mean, they design new trucks all the time he took on a different look and I asked why couldn't it happen to Optimus Prime and he took on a Peterbuilt rather than a Freightliner. Build better trucks *Optimus Prime Voice* "Primes got to have the best one".

Question: How hard was it to do the voice of Optimus Prime again after so many years?

Cullen: It was interesting. I didn't have any problem trying to find him, he was so set and so strong and foreign in substance that it was like riding a bike and he came right back and of course as I mentioned earlier, the qualities are still there, there was no threat of any of those qualities disappearing and he still stands for all the qualities the writers gave him from the get go.

Question: Of all the roles besides Optimus Prime, which role would you say you had the most fun with?

Cullen: Well, the one I had the most fun with which you probably didn't know was Murky Dismal from Rainbow Brite. And it's only because there was a Jacky Gleeson regiment I introduced into the character *Murky Impression* "youuuwhooowhoowhooowhooo" and you can get away with a lot of things with that voice especially when the tape wasn't rolling. He was capable of rounding out a few of four letter words. That was my favorite.

Question: Do you have any toys of the characters you have done?

Cullen: I have some not a great deal because I don't go to toy shops very often and when I do see character that I have done, I buy it. A lot of the ones I do own are gifts from the fans which are real personal for me.

Question: What are your impressions of the script keeping the essence of the original Transformers?

Cullen: The qualities of the characters are still there. It's like an elastic band and stretching it, but it's still the elastic band and the strength of the characters are still there. Apparently, Optimus Prime is a very expensive character to film. It's a $150 million movie and Dreamworks is involved with Steven Spielberg and a lot of that is involved in the animation so I would assume that if they make a lot of money, you guys would have to go see the movie and buy from Hasbro. But Optimus will be to a larger degree in the second and third movie and that was explained to me from the very beginning by one of the producers.

Question: Do you see Ironhide?

Cullen: Oh yeah. Ironhide was fun too. When I went to the audition, the first time I met Michael Bay, there was a young girl, assistant that had the "sides" (lines) that I was going to read and it was Ironhide and Prime together. So I was talking to Ironhide and the girl was not a very good actor but she was a reader but doing fine, and I stand beside her: "Do you mind if I read that? I played him in the series too" and I got into it and said: Prime Voice: Ironhide G1 Ironhide Voice: - Ah, come on Prime! Let's Kick Some Butt! And there was Bay just. (Imitates Michael Bay staring & speechless) And after the audition of course I was kind of wound up and a bit nervous and I was certainly not relaxed in any case. It was tough to go and redo your character after all those years and try to convince people again. Michael Bay asked me about specifically he said:

Michael Bay: You do specifically voice acting?
Peter: Yep, everyday.
Michael Bay: Wow, that's interesting. You don't do any on film?
Peter: No, I go around the city doing this in the microphone.
Michael Bay: Alright, we'll give you a call. One way or another we'll get together. Thank you very much.

I was out of there, I got in the car *Optimus Prime Voice* "I'm not going to do this again; they're going to kill me again". So my agent calls me up and said:

Steve: Mr. Bay would like to meet with you again.
Peter: Oh, not again.
Steve: He wanted to go over some certain things
Peter: Be more specific. What? I got to drive all the way down to Santa Monica and I got meet with and what?
Steve: He wants to know if you can act. You know, if you can relate because you're a voice actor.
Peter: (Chuckles) *Prime Voice* Oh, this is going to be sick.

So I drive down there, it's about a hour drive, so I finally get down there. He wanted to see as a voice actor if I could relate on a, you know human level with other characters, in this case with Spike Witwicky. So I had to audition all over again. So now it's my second audition. You go in and he said "Okay, that was great, that was fun" and there would be one more of those. So that's the nature of the business and when there's that many millions of dollars, there's a lot of guys with their tails between their legs, believe me boy, their careers are on the line and nobody wants to make a mistake. I don't believe I scared them but I actually believe if it weren't for the fan base and the communications you had between yourself and the powers that be, I would have never got that role and I really appreciate you people for it and I love you for it.

Question: How was working with Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles?

Cullen: I didn't work with them individually. I worked with Frank and when I got to page 16 and I looked over to where he was and said:

Peter: Frank, where are you? I'm just starting on marking my script. Are you up to page 16?"
Frank: No
Peter: You're bumping me off.
Frank: What do you mean?! What do you mean?! (Grabs script) Oh Gees!
Peter: There goes your car payments man.
Frank: This Sucks!

I hated it but I didn't get to work with Orson Welles but I heard stories that he thought it was the most ridiculous thing that he had ever done in his life and he knew nothing about anything. He had no idea, but he sounded off to a lot of people saying: *Orson Welles Impression* "Here I am at my age, at the ending my career, doing some metal piece of object that speaks for God sakes. This is incredible, I don't know what I'm doing here" I hear those stories. And I never met Leonard Nimoy.

Question: Besides Optimus Prime, what other types of characters did you like doing?

Cullen: I love doing characters that are easy to do or fun to do like Eeyore.

Question: Besides Optimus Prime, who was your favorite Transformer?

Cullen: *Ironhide Impression* Well Ironhide.

Question: What is your impression of the progression of the original series up to the movie now?

Cullen: Being in a movie is going to be a lot more centered on a beginning and an end rather than a series that has a continuous flow to it. But the writers are brilliant guys, they're brilliant writers and the script holds itself and holds it's own and I think you'll be generally pleased because it gives a sense of what the Transformers are all about, what they were intended for in terms of their conquest and defeats. But it keeps itself open for a progression into another realm and I have no idea where that's going to go but you know, it's good.

Question: How do you see Bumblebee as a Camaro?

Cullen: I can understand where the feelings you guys have for that and I don't blame you. You will miss some things but hopefully you will generate a new sense. You're going to feel the same way in some instances the way I did when I was wiped out and that's inevitable you know. Nothing stays the same, things change, but I'm trying to be optimistic here without sounding like I'm trying to hide anything. I have a lot of confidence in the changes that have been made and I'm sure you guys will too.

Question: Do you have a favorite line from the new movie and can you say it?

Cullen: There is one thing where he's in a garden and he's trying to find the glasses that have the image of where it's embedded into the solar lenses and it's a key thing in the plot and he's got to get those sunglasses. So the young kid has them. They were his grandfather's and he can't find them and he's (Prime) looking into the second story window. He's 40 feet tall compared to a size of a human being and he's walking in the backyard and the kid says:

Kid: You're in my mother's garden.
Optimus Prime: My Bad.

I said to Mr. Bay "I never ever said anything quite so silly as Optimus Prime. It's going to work." He says "Oh, yeah, it's going to work." I said "Anymore of those? throw more stuff like that in," and there will be opportunities and if they decide whether to put them in or not, but I don't now. I don't even remember if I said "Autobots transform and roll out". I don't even know if I said that. I've had seven meetings with Mr. Bay and the last one was about six weeks ago and we're always throwing, changing things. I don't remember because this whole thing has taken over a year in June. One year.

Question: How did you feel when the character of Optimus Prime exceeded to the level of like a father figure?

Cullen: Thank you. I was of course surprised by the reaction that Transformers had and you must know when I did that character in the beginning, I never received any feedback. I never received a fan letter and I don't know who got them if fans did write in, who received them or where they went, I never saw them. So I was very very surprised with my first encounter with Rochester, New York where I could see it visually the effect that the series the show itself and how endearing the characters were and I was genuinely surprised and that was my first BotCon. So I continued to honor that fan base by doing more and that was long before anybody thought of a movie. I figured that if you guys could show so much affection for so many characters that this is the least we could do to show up and say thank you and I am thanking you guys again for it.

Question: How do you feel about working with Hugo Weaving?

Cullen: I don't even know what he sounds like. I wish Frank Welker was doing it. I don't want to discard any of Hugo's fans but I wish Frank was doing it.

Question: Will Optimus Prime run for President?

Cullen: Who's he going to run for? The Green Party?

Question: I've heard you are somewhat of a cowboy. Have you ever been to a rodeo here?

Cullen: I haven't been to a Houston rodeo, but I do rodeo. I rope. I'm a roper, I'm a header and a terrible dealer, but it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I love going to rodeos and most of my buddies are cowboys.

Question: What are your upcoming projects?

Cullen: Ah Gee, I wish I knew. A voice actor really does not know what he's going to do the next day and it's just the nature of the business, unless you have a series and you can't even count on that because they can wipe you out on page 16.

Question: Why aren't there as many female robots? Why is it dominantly male?

Cullen: Oh, because all the female cars spend too much money in the powder room. I really don't know. I don't know. That's interesting isn't it? They ought to have a really hot red car. Hot red with pink bumpers.

Question: What inspired the voice of Monterey Jack from Disney's series Rescue Ranger?

Cullen: Now that's another interesting story. *Monterey Jack Voice* "Oh Blimey" They replaced me as Monterey Jack because he was too harsh. Disney is a very strange place Disney. There are many strange people that make strange decisions and I was told at one point that I was going to be replaced as Eeyore. They wanted a more less gendered Eeyore. They wanted something more middle of the road and Hallmark came about and said: "Peter, you are Eeyore. There's not going to be another you or Eeryore."

Question: Can you tell us what Autobots and Decepticons are actually in the movie?

Cullen: I'll tell you how secretive they were. I never got a full script. I only got pages that I was involved with. That was it and I read my lines and a lot of my stuff was with a battle with Megatron, conversed with Ironhide, Bumblebee and I can't even remember some of the lines. I was saying that earlier and I kind of remember some of the lines and I don't know. I wish I had a page sitting in front of me.

Question: Have you ever done any video games?

Cullen: I just finished Activision's Transformers Game. And it's hot! And I'll tell you why. I'm Optimus Prime all the way through but I'm also Optimus Prime one on one with the player. I talk to them, I give them advice, so it's as if they become the Autobot. So they are the Autobot, so depending on how well they play the game, I remind them how badly they're doing or how well they're doing and I give them advice.

Many thanks to Peter Cullen for taking the time to travel and making this special appearance along with special thank to Anime Matsuri staff for providing this amazing opportunity and experience.

Before we leave, here is a special message from Peter Cullen himself.

- click the play button to watch the trailer -

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