We Want Answers: Optimus Prime

No, we didn’t actually sit down with the leader of the Autobots…but we did speak to Prime’s pipes, voice actor Peter Cullen.

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!