Peter Cullen Talks Transformers

Peter Cullen needs no introduction here. Superhero Hype! got a chance to sit down with the voice of Optimus Prime at a special presentation Paramount Home Entertainment held on Friday to show journalists the special features on the HD DVD of Michael Bay’s Transformers that hits stores on Tuesday, October 16. Cullen met us at the studio and answered some questions about again voicing the icon:

Superhero Hype!: How often do you have people come up to you on the street and know you from Transformers?

Peter Cullen: Seldom, if ever. I’m not recognizable. That’s one of the perks about being in voiceover because nobody sees your face and unless I purposely do the voice would I get a reaction with children… I like that anonymity. I’ve always kind of felt when I was a kid, I remember being disappointed at seeing the physical look of the person behind the voice because I always had my own imaginative in my brain of what that person looked like. When I met that person, it did even come close so I’m afraid that some child will have that same reaction to me. I don’t push it.

SHH!: You only got to see the parts of the script you were in so what was it like to see the entire movie for the first time?

Cullen: I was at the premiere. I’ve never been to one really before. I’d been to “Winnie the Pooh” premiere once. We walked down the pink carpet. This was a blue carpet. I was kind of sucked into the energy and the nervousness. Finally when the movie came on, I wasn’t I a relaxed state at al by any means surrounded by other major well known celebrities. I was never really comfortable through the whole thing. I made a point to see it again. I got a whole lot more out of it by being in a relaxed state and I had a better objective. So, my second time around I thought it was fantastic. I can’t remember ever having been through a movie and seeing it again saying, ‘I don’t remember seeing that.’ It was overwhelming and loud.

SHH!: Did they do anything to your voice to enhance it?

Cullen: Yes, I think they did. I had a question about that early on with Michael Bay. I was just curious. I wasn’t going to object in any way. It was their film, but I just wanted to know if they were going to make my voice as recognizable as it was on the original series. And he said, “don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it. We’re going to do something to justify it’s size relative to the actors on screen.” If he’s a 40 foot high mechanical robot and Shia LaBeouf is less than his knee cap or whatever it is, he had to justify the sound without losing the character and without losing the original nuances that we had developed back in ’84.

SHH!: What was Michael Bay like as a director?

Cullen: He was wonderful. He’s an exciting man to work for and even if you didn’t know anything about him, he has a presence. It’s a strong presence and that presence alone is enough to energize you. Having known a little more about him than some other directors that you’ve never worked with before, he was generous, he was helpful, he was production in the sense that he could find a way to get things out of me that I appreciated, he made me extremely relaxed. I was very privileged because I can’t imagine accomplishing the things that he’s accomplished by just in scope alone in size. I would look at that and say, “that’s insurmountable.” I have to admire him for that because I’m in awe of that. “How does he do that?” Then you see him in action and you understand why. That brain is going all the time like the Energizer. It was a privilege and it was a pleasure. It was always a joy.

SHH!: What were you initial thoughts what happened to Optimus Prime in the “Transformers: The Movie” in 1986 and did anyone ask you to come back and play the character in the other shows over the years?

Cullen: Well the first part of that question, I was stunned. I was really disappointed more than anything else and I’ve said this before. I’m a day laborer and I do my chores, as many jobs as I can. To see you’re getting killed off, all you see is car payments going off. You don’t think about it. You go off to the next job. When they did bring me back on two separate occasions it was because of fan base and parental uproar. I heard a story that some kid was not coming out of his closet, his room. He was so devastated, he wasn’t coming out. There was a few. I wasn’t aware and when I went in to do those shows, I wasn’t aware as to why they were bringing me back. We never got fan mail. We didn’t have a barometer to judge this thing on. It was just a job.

SHH!: Did they ever ask you to join the series that took place before the movie?

Cullen: No. It’s funny. I wasn’t aware of any of that popularity the Transformers had created until I went to my first convention back in Rochester, New York in ’98 maybe or ’99. That’s when I found out. My daughter is the one who said, “dad you’ve got to go. You have to go.” I said, “why Claire why?” She said “the kids in my class said, ‘your dad is Optimus Prime’ and they go nuts.” I said, “you’re kidding?” She said, “no, you’ve got to go.” So I went. I was really surprised. I was sitting down in front of 3-400 people and they started applauding. It startled me. It really did.

SHH!: I understand you based the character on a family member?

Cullen: It was my brother Larry. We’re very close. He’s like my best friend. We’re 13 months apart. It’s quite a serious story how I came about. I was impersonating my brother Larry. He served in the Marine Corps and was in Vietnam. [He was] a purple heart recipient, a bronze star recipient. When he came home there was a significant change in him and that’s where I got the qualities that I have applied to Optimus. His voice being the first thing. (in his Optimus Prime voice) “Peter cut it out.” So we always laugh.

SHH!: Do you feel a sense of possessiveness with your characters like Optimus?

Cullen: I would say that if you do a character long enough, you do develop a sense of possession to it because it does become a part of you and you have an awareness of the popularity and how it’s affected people. In this general case with Optimus, I am personally attached that way, but I will never allow myself to get so personally attached to something that I’ll be injured the way I was hurt when I was replaced. It’s hard enough to justify your day laborer attitude without being stomped on all the time. But that’s life and I just avoid those areas where I can be terribly disappointed and that’s part of it. I just move on. As far as some of the other characters I’ve done, I hope to never have to go back to them again. Some of them.

SHH!: You’ve said before you had to audition for the role. What did that audition consist of?

Cullen: Reading the character. Letting him hear it. He’s directing a major motion picture, there’s a lot at stake. I admire and respect that this guy is doing his job. He wasn’t about to risk anybody’s money so we played by the rules.

SHH!: Do you know when production for the second film is supposed to start?

Cullen: No, I have no idea. I hope the writer’s strike doesn’t affect the ongoing plans. It affects everyone.

We learned a few interesting things about the HD DVD that you can look forward to. The first disc will not only have the feature film, but a funny commentary by Michael Bay which includes him talking about not liking Shia LaBeouf’s “nappy hair” and how he couldn’t cut it because LaBeouf was still filming “Disturbia” There’s funny factoids about the production and Transformers themselves. Viewers can watch picture-in picture b-roll and video with Bay, Steven Spielberg and other filmmakers. On disc two, fans can zoom in and get a 360 degree view of the robots. Using the HD DVD player, viewers will be able to update information and material on the film and the actors when new details are available.

Source: Heather Newgen