Peter Cullen’s Back Voicing Prime

20/08/2008 0 By Administratus Prime

"And, actually, you have to remember that, on some television shows, you're doing more than one voice. You could be doing three or four voices."

Cullen has been the voice behind the bad-guy car K.A.R.R. on "Knight Rider" (1982), a gremlin in "Gremlins" (1984), Venger in "Dungeons & Dragons" (1983-1985), Zandar in "G.I. Joe" (1985-1986), the predator in "Predator" (1987), Mantus in "The Pirates of Dark Water" (1991-1993) and Eeyore in every animated "Winnie the Pooh" incarnation for the past two decades.

He is best known – or at least most beloved, as like all voice artists he's essentially unknown – as the commanding voice of Optimus Prime in "Transformers." He did the talking for Optimus, a good-guy Autobot who helps battle the evil Decepticons, in the animated series that ran from 1984 to 1987, as well as the cartoon feature "Transformers: The Movie" (1986).


And he returned to voice Optimus in the blockbuster live-action feature, "Transformers" (2007), lending a hand to the human Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) when he's thrown into the fracas between the Autobots and the Decepticons.

"Optimus is my favorite character because it's been so well received and it's had such an effect on so many people," Cullen said. "Because of that, I hold it closer than any other character I've done – outside of maybe Eeyore, who's had a considerable effect on younger children too.

"When I looked at the breakdown of Optimus Prime in the original show, it was a hero. My older brother, Larry, was my hero. He had returned from Vietnam. He was with the Marine Corps, and he saw some pretty heavy experience. It was his tone of voice and delivery as a leader, his control that impressed me, and I applied my brother's attitude to life to Optimus Prime.

"It just rang a bell, and I was cast in that part. I guess people somehow picked up on that. There's a calmness to Optimus Prime, and yet a gentility and strength and honor and dignity, that are synonymous with the Marines."

Cullen is on the telephone from his Los Angeles home to talk about the extras-laden, two-disc Blu-ray edition of "Transformers" that will be issued on Sept. 2.

One revelation from the edition: Despite a rabid fan base that had all but demanded that Cullen voice Optimus Prime, "Transformers" director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg forced him to audition for his old role.

"Well, that's Hollywood," Cullen said philosophically. "They're talking millions of dollars. People's lives are on the line, and so are their reputations. The studio itself, they don't want to make a mistake. They'd rather be safe than sorry, I think.

"The determination of the fans was overwhelmingly influential in getting me in there. Was I surprised that I had to audition? I guess a little bit. But I understand. That's part of life in Hollywood."

Once aboard, Cullen took direction straight from Bay himself.

"I enjoyed every minute of working with Michael," Cullen said. "We were one-on-one, with his engineers. He's an incredibly inspiring man. What he can do with film is just awesome, and I'm very impressed by him. His method of getting things out of me was very easy and relaxed and inspiring.

"Outside of all the investigation he did of the Transformers, he did ask me questions. They were getting away from some of the original elements in some cases and were bringing in new ideas. Michael would say, 'Peter, do you think Optimus would say this?' And I'd say, 'Sure, yeah.' Or in other cases I'd say, 'I don't think so. I don't think he'd lose his temper. He's in control.'

"So, with those parameters, I think we kept the whole feeling of Optimus from the original series right into the movie. And I was very happy about that."

Right now Cullen is happily juggling a variety of projects. He's penning a novel with autobiographical elements and continues to voice Eeyore for the Playhouse Disney series "My Friends Tigger & Pooh." And he's logging time in a studio to record his lines as Optimus Prime for the "Transformers" sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

"I have started," Cullen said. "I worked with Michael a few weeks ago and we did some of the opening dialogue, the opening speech and then a couple of scenes with Shia LaBeouf. Shia wasn't there, of course. I just worked from the script."

So what happens in the sequel?

"They're very secretive about the story," he said. "I only know the lines I've read, and I'm not allowed to disclose any of those. But the amount of success that 'Transformers' had on a financial level is providing a lot more screen time for Optimus Prime. It's very expensive to do all these robot characters because of the 10,000 moving parts.

"Thankfully we were a hit, so there's 'Transformers 2' and maybe 'Transformers 3.' I think 'Transformers 2' is going to be an incredible, incredible picture. I can see the excitement in the faces of the people involved, and it generates quite a bit of excitement in me too."

Source: Reading Eagle