If you were preadolescent in the early 1980s you still may not have known who Peter Cullen was, but you certainly knew his animated alter egoâ€¦ Optimus Prime. In his forty-year career, Cullen has leant his distinctive basso profundo voice to a host of animated characters and voice over work, to the extent that every child in America probably knows who he is, even if none of them knows who he is.
Among all those works, “Transformers” is still at the top of the heap in terms of nostalgia and the cult following that has arisen following its initial demise in the mid ’80s, and it’s exactly that following DreamWorks hopes to capture this summer with the first live action Transformers movie. While the film is getting the Hollywood makeover, the filmmakers are still trying to keep the sense of the original incarnation, and started on the right foot by bringing Peter Cullen back to create Optimus Prime once again.
Superhero Hype! talked exclusively to Cullen about the movie this week:
SHH!: Hi Peter. How are you doing?
Peter Cullen: I’m doing great, thanks.
SHH!: I had read somewhere that you had said Optimus Prime was your favorite voice of all the voices you had done.
SHH!: It’s been over 20 years since the original show. What was it like coming back to do it again?
Cullen: Well, overwhelming I guess. You know I was thrilled, after so many years, and I must add Optimus Prime wasn’t by any means my favorite character back in the early ’80s and when I was bumped off I didn’t really know why. I mean, it wasn’t explained to me. I had no indication as to any reason for it. So he certainly wasn’t one of my favorite characters then and I even questioned his popularity. I said this guy can’t be all that great if they’re getting rid of him, until I find out years later.
Cullen: But today definitely he’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done and that’s because of the affect that he’s had on so many lives.
SHH!: What was the experience like making the movie? Were you just in the booth doing the dialogue or was there anything else?
Cullen: Correct. I worked with Michael Bay in the sound room, in front of a big screen and that’s where I did all my work. And I worked by myself, except of course with Michael Bay right there with me.
SHH!: You said you had to look at it on a big screen, have you seen what it’s going to look like yet?
Cullen: I’ve seen portions. Everything else that I’ve seen has been on television. I worked in front of a huge screen, nothing like IMAX or anything and nothing like High Definition, it was just working prints in the studio, but enough to indicate to me that this is huge and it’s overpowering. I was just explaining to a person earlier that when I watched Optimus for the first time and the beeps went off to signal me to speak I was speechless. My jaw kind of hung down. I went “oh wow.” And they rolled it again and I was speechless still because I’m gawking at it and it was rather humorous. I had to apologize â€“ “I’m sorry guys but this is awesome.” So that’s how that went.
SHH!: They’ve taken lots of things from different “Transformers” mythology, rolled it together and put their own spin on things for the movie, so it’s its own thing. And fans can beâ€¦ pickyâ€¦ about this stuff, especially stuff they grew up with. How do you think the reactions are going to be when they finally get to see it?
Cullen: Well I put myself in their shoes. Everybody has a sentimental attachment to things in life and things change. I don’t know quite how to put it but if I had an old car that I grew up with and every year it just gets older and older and older, things change with it and for the better. A company comes out with a new tire and I put the tire on and the car handles better and it’s still the same car and it still has the same sentiment to it, but things just got better, a new engine, things like that. I think that’s happening with the “Transformers,” and I think the basic sense of the Transformers is still there. I don’t think fans will be disappointed because after all it’s an emotional attachment and I think a lot of the emotions are still being honored so hopefully that’s going to be the general conception.
SHH!: Are you surprised it’s lasted as long as it has? It started as a promotion for a toy line and it’s basically taken on a life of it’s own. Does that surprise you?
Cullen: Yes, but the real surprise was in discovering the success of it so many, many years later. It wasn’t until some time in the later ’90s at the insistence of my daughter to go to an autograph convention for the Transformers and my daughter told me, “dad there are so many kids who grew up with it who would love to meet you, to see you” and I said, “are you kidding?” So I went to Rochester New York and that’s when I became aware of the popularity. Certainly I was overwhelmed with it, I was surprised and very impressed with it. And now very grateful, extremely grateful.
SHH!: I had read that you had been signed for two sequels as well, if it does well?
Cullen: Hopefully. Yes, that’s true. There was talk of three pictures and a three-picture deal and I’m very excited to know that I’m not getting rubbed out.
SHH!: In all the talk, has anybody mentioned what they’ve thought about what they’re doing for later ones or is that still justâ€¦
Cullen: Oh no, I have no idea. I think they’re honoring the Transformers historically – it’s huge and who would have known or who would have guessed that there would be the reaction that it’s had. Certainly not I. I think they’re honoring the fact that Transformers is here to stay, and I’m grateful for that, too. (Laughs).
SHH!: I can understand. You said when you were doing your recording sessions you were with Michael Bay, working with you. What was that like?
Cullen: Wonderful. I have a great respect with him and it’s a thrill for me to work with people that have awesome careers like that, it’s a privilege. He’s definitely right up there and it was wonderful. It’s just wonderful to be around people that are great at what they do, it rubs off, it was a wonderful experience and I was happy to have had it.
SHH!: If I remember right you did Ironhide’s voice as well, for the showâ€¦
Cullen: That’s right.
SHH!: …but you’re not doing him for the movie.
SHH!: Do you know anyone else who’s doing a voice?
Cullen: I have no idea, Josh. I’ll tell you, I haven’t even heard Megatron, so I have no idea. It’s just going to be as new to me as it is to everybody else. And I’m excited.
SHH!: Me too. Thank you very much.
Cullen: Thank you.
Transformers opens in theaters at 8 p.m. on Monday, July 2nd.
Source: Joshua Starnes