An interview with Peter Cullen needs no introduction. He’s the man behind the iconic voice of the leader of the Autobots that many of us grew up with in the 80s. With the recent resurgence of Transformers hysteria due to Michael Bay’s live-action adaptations, Peter Cullen has been hard at work on the films, video games and upcoming cartoon series. We recently had a chat with him about all things Transformers. I may or may not have tinkled a little in the process. It is, after all, Optimus Frakkin Prime.
How is the Optimus Prime in War for Cyberton different than other Optimus Primes?
In the game it’s perhaps a little different in that he jumps around saying things that are activated by the actions of the player. There will be a consistency in his character but you won’t be able to find the same significant emotions he would have with a written script in the movies or cartoons. From what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen of the game it’s a very interesting combination to have an individual play into, let’s say a cartoon, he’s now in the cartoon with Optimus Prime and I think that’s a very special ingredient to have.
(More on Techland: More Than Meets the Eye: Transformers: War for Cybertron Review)
Do you have a routine to get into character?
Well, not really. Generally, I just assume the character that came to me from the very beginning that’s based on my brothery Larry who was a Marine Corps captain that served in Vietnam. Larry is 13 months older and when he came home, I noticed a great difference in him. He was more composed and understanding. All his character traits that I saw in him, I applied to the breakdown of the character when I first auditioned for him, so I don’t have any problem recalling Optimus whatsoever. His basic components are courage and compassion and dignity and honor and integrity. There’s really no energy involved. I just think of my brother and read the words and then he comes out.
You’ve said in the past that you were able to improvise while shooting the movies. Were you able to do that in the game?
Somewhat. There were opportunities to perhaps change an attitude that wouldn’t be consistent with Optimus as he would be in the series or the motion picture but they were rare. The character was pretty much “spot on” as the Brits would say. Outside of a couple of changes whether he would say something or not and or according to the powers that be what could be said and what couldn’t be said in terms of verbal selections or something a little less violent. But they stuck pretty close to the original fabric of Optimus.
War for Cybertron is a completely new story and serves as the backstory for the Autobots and Decepticons. Do you read any of the comic books or have you in the past?
To be perfectly honest, I stopped reading comic books at a young age. Those were Superman, Black Hawk and GI Joe. That was a long time ago. I haven’t read any of the comics. I’ve seen a lot of covers at BotCons and I’ve been curious by it and amazed by some of the illustrations.
What did you think of the story for War for Cybertron?
Generally speaking, I’m always impressed by the writers that have imagined and conceived these plots and adventures. They’re brilliant people and overall they write really well, for me at least. They’ve come up with so many great one-liners that memorable and universal almost. As I said, generally speaking, I am amazed by the writers from the very get-go. There are so many sub factors and tangents with the Transformers that the imagination can take you almost anywhere you want to go in the future as they’ve done in the past. I’m always amazed and look forward to where we’re going to go now. What’s next!
Did you voice any other characters in the game?
Just Optimus Prime.
Is there any connection between War for Cybertron and Transformers: Prime?
I really don’t think so. There may be but I’m not really privy to discuss the creative content at this point. We’re in a very exciting stage in development with Hasbro and the Discovery Channel’s HUB. The introduction of the series will be coming the fall.
Were you at all upset with Optimus Prime’s moving lips in the movies?
Hahaha. Let me tell you how I felt while they were doing it. They had a camera, while I was reading my lines, concentrated on my mouth and nothing else. If you think that wouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable then you’ve got a character of steel and concrete. After a while I would forget it was there but it was very unsettling at first. I wasn’t really quite sure why they were doing it but I suspected it. It was a little unnerving, you know, when a camera is pointed at your mouth when you’re trying to create something. When I saw the outcome, I didn’t really notice it. It didn’t draw to my attention as much as I was lead to believe it would be. It really didn’t bother me. The only thing that bothers me and to be perfectly frank, I can’t stand the movement of my lips. I think they look stupid. That’s another reason why I felt odd when they were concentrating on my lips.
How do you bring emotion to an artificial robot?
To speak as a truck or as a robot, I apply just the character that’s written. I give him all the qualities and traits that his character demonstrates. I don’t think of where it’s coming from, I think of it perhaps on a more spiritual human level. I don’t worry about that, I’m just being a character. In my mind, I just realize that I am from outer space and that humans are from here, so there will be a difference in his sound or in his reactions.
In the game, you can make your own Transformer, had you not been involved with Optimus all these years, what would your Transformer change into and what powers would he have?
I may have answered this question years ago, but I’m allowed to change my mind if I want to. I love flying, so I’d want to be aerial. But I do love being a truck, so I’d like to remain an 18-wheeler. I love the sound, of course. I’ve always wanted to drive an 18-wheeler and I wouldn’t mind one of those Peterbilts with all the flames and everything else. I think it’s a cool machine. It’s awesome.
And because I’m a huge fanboy, I asked Mr. Cullen to rattle off a couple of his favorite one-liners.