A few weeks ago, the BotCon 2010 Transformers convention was held at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Orlando. Among its special guests was the voice of Optimus Prime since the character’s inception, Peter Cullen.
Cullen has been working as an actor for decades and while voicing the Autobot leader for the Transformers world is what he is known best for, he has stretched his vocal abilities over the years in a number of voice acting roles in many famous cartoons. In the world of Disney, Cullen’s voice has been heard as the cheese-loving Monterey Jack mouse character from “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers”, various parts on “Darkwing Duck,” “TaleSpin,” “DuckTales,” “The Gummi Bears,” and even Eeyore from the “Winnie the Pooh” series.
Shortly after Cullen’s panel discussion at BotCon 2010 (during which he revealed that he is no longer the voice of Eeyore), I sat down with him to discuss his career, how he creates the Optimus Prime voice, and even a bit of advice for acting hopefuls.
You can listen to the entire interview in Show 278 of the Inside the Magic podcast, beginning at around the 22-minute mark. Though, if you’re a fan of Cullen’s work, you won’t want to skip the intro he recorded for us at the beginning of the show!
Find the episode at the link above or embedded below:
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Listening to the interview affords you the opportunity to hear Peter Cullen explain how he summons that powerful Optimus Prime voice from his body. But I’ve also transcribed a few of the questions and answers below:
RICKY BRIGANTE: How did you come to create the voice of Optimus Prime? What was your inspiration behind it?
PETER CULLEN: My brother Larry, former Captain in the United States Marine Corps with the Fifth Regiment, was the inspiration not only for the voice but for the character – the character consistent with the great virtues of the Marines in many ways, which is the honor, dignity, courage, integrity. Easy, easy virtues to apply especially when you’ve left the house in the morning for the audition of Optimus Prime with your brother’s voice and the tremendous respect I have for Larry. When I read the first lines and the breakdown of the character, my brother came to mind immediately and I just sank right into that character and in the moment of the audition, I said, “Wow. Boy, I had no idea that my brother Larry had been such a great influence on my life,” and I bless him and love him for that as I do all of his fellow Marines.
RB: When first voicing Optimus Prime years ago, did you ever think this “Transformers” franchise would be where it is today, with soon-to-be three huge Hollywood films, a theme park attraction, and a convention of fans like we’re at now?
PC: Never once did I ever think that. I always approached every character that I created with an impending doom, like “How long?”, “How many seasons?”, “How many shows?”, “How many minutes?” and then move onto the next one. Hollywood is always a series of disappointments and for anybody that has any ambition to join that city with the expectations of being great, it takes a long time. Some people are very fortunate and they get it very quickly but they’re gone very quickly. But for anybody that is considering it, don’t give up. Keep the main ingredients and the main source of your heart and your ambitions together in one place in your mind and do not let defeat ever destroy you. Always go after it because you’ll really appreciate yourself later on when you do find some success.
Some very important people in life have told me some very important adages that I’ve applied. Lucille Ball once said [to] never refuse a job, no matter how small, no matter how big, miniscule or whatever, because every job leads to another job. And don’t be so proud that you expect perhaps 50 lines and you only get half a line. That half line could take you to another line and so on. Always have the courage and the love of your craft to keep on going despite the disappointments because there will be many.
RB: Have you already started working on “Transformers 3,” the third big Hollywood movie?
PC: Yes I have, Ricky, and I’ll tell you it is fun. I can’t tell you too much about the plot [...] I’ve had some very exciting moments so far. We’re in the month of June 2010 and one year from now the movie will come out, so a lot of work is yet to be done. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the great Michael Bay and I say that with all sincerity because he is a general and he is a marvelous man to work for. I couldn’t imagine anybody saying anything any other way about Michael. He’s a great director, holding in his brain the way a general would before a great, great campaign and how he keeps it all together is beyond imagination for me. I wouldn’t have the resources available for anything that he can do. He’s a phenomenal director and he gets a great deal out of me in a wonderful way.
For the rest of my interview with Peter Cullen, including a few Optimus Prime voice demonstrations, listen to Show 278 of the Inside the Magic podcast.