How did you develop Optimus Prime's voice?
Well, when I read the breakdown of Transformers, one of several characters I auditioned for was programmed as a leader. They listed his attributes, and I looked at it and said, "OK, I've got a shot at doing a hero here." So I read some lines, and they reminded me of my brother Larry, who had served as an officer in the Marine Corps. So I just kind of impersonated him.
How long were you involved with the Transformers cartoon?
I started in 1984, and by 1986 I was in the movie with Orson Wells. But Optimus Prime was assassinated, which was a total shock at the time! I remember talking to Frank Welker [the actor who voiced Prime's nemesis Megatron] and saying, "Gee, Frank, you're smacking me, there go the car payments."
Did you have any inclination of what a huge pop culture phenomenon Transformers would become?
No, I didn't. Although at the time I thought it was rather interesting and certainly a far, far cry from the normal comic book heroes that had been translated into cartoons. It was an intriguing concept, one that I didn't understand in the beginning. But with every script we became more informed and the characters took on a life.
Were you surprised to hear that Michael Bay was filming a live-action Transformers movie? And were you surprised to reprise your role as Optimus Prime?
I was surprised to hear about the movie, and I did not want to get excited about my possible involvement. It was only until all the Internet activity from the fan base began to collect steam that I started to think about it. And even then I warned myself not to get my hopes up. But then I got a call from Michael Bay's office asking me to come in and audition. I went through three auditions before getting the part.
Transformers fans were extremely happy with that casting decision!
I've said this many times, but there's no way I could oversay it, I'm so grateful to that fan base. And I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to affect some lives in a good way—that's a very settling feeling for me.
The robots in this film are incredibly intricate and realistic. What was it like seeing an awesome CGI Optimus Prime towering on the screen?
When I first saw Optimus Prime, Michael Bay was sitting at his desk beside me in the screening room. I was beeped in—you always hear three recording beeps in your earphones to signal you to speak at the end of the third beep—and I looked up and was awestruck. Just, "What? Oh my God! That's awesome! Holy God!" I was knocked out and couldn't even speak. So they ran it again. And of course I was speechless one more time and apologized. I said, "Gosh, I'm sorry, guys. I mean, this is something else!" Well, they just smiled, because we were all in agreement.
How long did it take you to record Optimus Prime's voice?
I did my recording perhaps in about five or six sessions. But I still had no idea of what it was all about because I never got to see a finished script; I only saw my parts. They were pretty hush-hush.
Speaking of hush-hush, can you tell us anything about the sequel?
I haven't got a clue, other than I am signed on for two more movies.
That's great news. On that note, it's time to roll out!
Transformers is out on DVD and HD DVD on October 16, 2007!