If it weren't for the love and loyalty of Transformers fans across the nation, Peter Cullen would have never been given the chance to reprise his role as Optimus Prime in the live-action film version of Transformers. He would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you personally. Transformers has been one of the best experiences of his long and illustrious life as a cartoon voice over artist, and he's extremely happy that he got to return to the toy franchise.
Cullen originated the voice of Optimus Prime on the cartoon series, which ran from 1984 to 1986. He also worked on the first film, which was animated. Now, two decades later, he returns as everyone's favorite Semi-Truck changing giant robot. I got to chat with Peter about his experiences living in the world of the Transformers.
Here is our interview:
Peter Cullen: Okay. Hi, Paulington!
Hi, Peter, how are you doing?
Peter Cullen: Oh, just fine, sir.
I've got to know, Peter. Are you just as anxious as the rest of America for this film to come out? Or have you seen it already?
Peter Cullen: No, I'm just as anxious. I've only seen bits and pieces. Just enough to whet my appetite. My curiosity level is up there with you guys.
What has your reaction been to this fan response? There have been a lot of positive and negative talk about the film, but the one thing that seems to make every single person happy is your return as Optimus Prime.
Peter Cullen: This means a great deal to me. Mostly because the fan base literraly lobbied for me to play the part. Without them, I probably would have stayed back in that oblivion from 1986. I am so grateful to the fans, and I like to take every opportunity I have to tell them that. I had an opportunity yesterday to meet with some website guys at a panel discussion, and for me it was a great opportunity to say, "Thank you." For what they have done. It means a lot to me. I hope that answers your question.
It does. It actually goes into my next question. Back in 1986, did you have any inkling of an idea that you would be the main star of, probably, the biggest movie of 2007?
Peter Cullen: No. Not even a glint of a thought like that. Back in those days, you know, when I did that first movie? I realized that I was going to be killed off. That was a surprise. I wondered for years if it was because of a bad performance. Or whatever. I never got any feedback from them. There wasn't any thermometer to judge you. The surprise eventually donned on me. Over the years, maybe just a few years back, Paulington, when I went to a Comic Con, that's when I was surprised by the fact that Optimus had made an impact on so many lives. So, here we are. And it's getting more exciting by the day.
So, the movie came out back in 1984?
Peter Cullen: No, '86. The series started n '84.
Well, you say they killed your character off, but did you not come back as the reincarnated Optimus Prime character? Or am I wrong about that?
Peter Cullen: No, you are right. But I wasn't aware of that until many years later. But when I went in to do two additional shows on the series, and they brought me back, from what I understand, and it is humorous to me now...It was because of the pressure put on the show by the powers that be, because of the impact of Prime's death. They had to bring me back, because evidently there were some psychological problems going on. There were a lot of upset kids.
Yeah, I can imagine that. I think I was a little older when that came out. I remember seeing the film in the theater, but I don't remember being terribly upset that Optimus Prime died. It didn't affect me emotionally, but I can see how that would upset some of the little kids.
Peter Cullen: Little kids were the main ingredient in activating the scriptwriters to bring me back.
Can you tell me what your favorite scene in the movie is, or are you not allowed to talk about that yet?
Peter Cullen: Quite honestly, Paulington, I have only seen bits and pieces. For me to judge that would be impossible. Of the scenes that I saw completed, I was impressed. The Industrial, Light, and Magic stuff is beyond description. I will give you a little hint of that. When I was listening to my beats to cue me in as Optimus Prime, it was my first opportunity to see some of the work done on the big screen in front of me. As I was cued in, I couldn't speak. I was knocked over by it. I just looked in awe, and said, "Oh, my God! This is incredible." Then they said, "Okay, Pete, we're going to have to do that again." I said, "Oh, sure, okay." It went again, and I still couldn't speak. Because I saw more. It took a few passes before I could collect myself. If that's any indication of what we can expect. It's going to be incredible.
You say that back in 1984 to 1986, you weren't getting a lot of feedback. Was this from the makers of the cartoon?
Peter Cullen: You know, I have no idea how to connect the dots on that one. All I know, as far as I know, none of the other actors had any feedback as well. Outside of being renewed for a new season, that was the only thing that we knew. If it is good enough for another season, we must be doing okay. That's not guaranteed secure work. Not when you are an actor trying to have a series. It's sad when it is cancelled.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from the makers of this film?
Peter Cullen: I've gotten excellent feedback from every corner. And I'm not just talking about people on the net, or folks who have just seen glimpses or something. This has been coming from the major studios that are evolved in all aspects. Promotion, marketing, just average office people. They have that glint in their eye, and they say, "This is gong to be fantastic." From those points of view, I'm quite excited. I'm also quite confident, too, that it is going to go on to another one. Possibly even a third one.
Yeah. I could see this thing going on for a very long time. From everyone I've talked to, this is the movie they want to see this summer over everything else.
Peter Cullen: Yeah. I've heard the same thing, Paulington. It's a good feeling. A really good feeling. It took a lot of work to get there. For me, it's been a year. It was around June of last year that I heard rumblings of me possibly getting a crack at doing Prime again.
Did you do all of your voice work after the film was shot?
Peter Cullen: No, during. I looked at sketches. Rough animations as well. And finished product. It was an ongoing effort. Even though I didn't start my formal recording sessions sometime after the beginning of the New Year, Michael Bay would call me in as scenes progressed. That was exciting, because I always had this idea about how the film was coming along without too much information. The news on my end was that this was powerful. That this was a metamorphosis of excitement. God, where am I coming from today?
Did you work with any of the other actors on this?
Peter Cullen: No, I didn't. I worked alone. It was very unlike the series, where we all worked together as a unit. We would have ten to fourteen guys in one room crammed around a microphone. That was missing during this go around. But it didn't affect anything form my end. I was working a lot with on-screen actors who were staring off into space at an imaginary object. In this case, that would have been me. And I would have to relate to that on the big screen. So, I tried to make Optimus more human. More one-on-one with the characters. But I didn't work with anybody physically. It was all on film.
Back in the original series, you worked in the booth with Frank Weller? The voice of Megatron?
Peter Cullen: Yeah.
Are you guys good friends?:
Peter Cullen: Oh, god, he is one of the greatest guys. We are good friends. I don't see him enough. And when I do, that's only because our paths cross in this big city here, doing voice over. You know, Frank is one of the funniest and warmest people you'd ever want to met in this town. I was quite saddened by the fact that he did not bring his role of Megatron to the movie. But that is life in the big city and you move on.
He's not in the film?
Peter Cullen: No, Hugo Weaving is playing Megatron.
I'm sorry. I thought he was in the movie.
Peter Cullen: No, we combined forces on the game. The videogame, which is incredible. Frank and I got together, and we teamed up on that. We had a ball. We even had Carl Weathers directing us. You know, Apollo Creed from Rocky?
Peter Cullen: Oh, Paulington, that was great. What a combination. They recorded us for about forty-five minutes on videotape. This guy had the opportunity to ask us two questions, and we took those two questions and turned it into almost an hour. It's supposed to be hysterical. I hope I get to see it someday.
Do you know if that's going to be included on a DVD release?
Peter Cullen: I don't know. That's a mystery to me. It is tied solely to the game. I don't think I had an opportunity to ask that question yesterday. If I did, I forgot what the answer was. There was so much happening. I would expect somewhere down the line it will be viewed. What isn't? It seems to me today nothing is private anymore. You have to be careful of what you say or do anywhere.
Oh, yeah. It'll wind up on Youtube or something.
Peter Cullen: Ha, yeah. I wont go there. There have been some posts on Youtube that have made some people very, very sad.
What do you think about this 80s resurgence in film right now? They're talking about doing Thundercats, and I hear that they are bringing G.I. Joe back. I know you worked on a lot of cartoons around that time.
Peter Cullen: I did. And it's amazing to me. I don't know if it's modern sentimentality, or what. It really is a phenomenon. I guess it just shows the power of your generation, and the ability for you guys to get something down. I can't remember having anything when I was a kid that resembles what's going on today. I mean, I don't know how to describe that. Maybe a couple of guys are trying to do Laurel and Hardy. Ha, ha, ha...I can't compare it to anything else. No.
Are there any 80s series that you remember working on, that you would actually like to see come to the big screen?
Peter Cullen: There were so many things that duplicated. After Transformers, I don't think there is anything that could come close to it. Certainly not the Go-Bots.
I never played with those.
Peter Cullen: There was Voltron. I remember doing Commander Hawkins on that. I don't know where to go with that, Paulington. I'm trying to stretch my memory bank, and I'm having a little bit of difficulty trying to bring back some of those shows. How can you compete with Transformers? That's impossible.
I remember, back at that time, that was the biggest one for me. That I watched. I was getting older, so I wasn't playing with as many toys at that point. For me, I was in a transition period.
Peter Cullen: Yeah. You sound like you are about the same age as my son. Mid-thirties. My son was a teenager at the time. He had passed the point of toys. He still had a little bit of an interest in them.
Can I ask you one more question before they make me get off the phone with you?
Peter Cullen: Sure.
They are making a new Ghostbusters movie that is going to be all CGI. You worked on the cartoon. Has anyone approached you about doing voices for the new movie?
Peter Cullen: Not as of yet. That's new information to me, as well. So I will be poised and ready for whatever happens.
Okay, sir. Thank you very much.
Peter Cullen: Thank you , Paulington. Thank you!
Transformers opens July 3rd at a theater near you.