In 1984, a little cartoon premiered that sent kids (and toy stores) into a frenzy. That show was called Transformers, and its colorful cast of robots that turn into other things became instant stars, none more so than the leader of the heroic Autobots, Optimus Prime. The voice of Optimus was Peter Cullen, who played the character until 1987. Then, 20 years later, with the release of Michael Bay’s big-screen live-action hit, Cullen was back in the driver’s seat. For the past three seasons, Cullen has again provided the voice of Prime for the aptly named cartoon series Transformers Prime. Its third and final season premieres tonight at 7:30 ET on The Hub. We spoke to Mr. Cullen about what it means to be playing Optimus after all these years.
NERDIST: Did you have any idea when you began voicing Optimus Prime that you’d still be doing it so many years later?
PETER CULLEN: I absolutely did not ever consider it! I could only imagine my mortgage payments being the constant back then. There were so many shows that never really lasted, so you always lived in the present and hoped for a secure hit.
N: What does it mean to you that you’re the voice of such a beloved character now for multiple generations of kids?
PC: It took me by surprise initially, and it also made me ask some personal questions. Why, and what do I do when I know why? It is a responsibility that I take to heart, and I hope I never let down those that hold him beloved.
N: How has the character changed over the years and specifically in Transformers Prime?
PC: I suppose there are some little changes here and there, but the truth of character is still there, and as long as I am there, so will be the truth.
N: Has your approach to the character changed at all since you returned to the character with the feature film?
PC: I suppose, because he speaks into a new realm of humanity, not only animated characters, but real living people that involve him into this fantasy reality. That’s a good one! I’m not quite convinced you’ll be happy with this answer, but really, I think about his constancy as uppermost.
N: Rounding to the nearest hundred, how many times do you estimate you’ve been asked to say “Let’s roll out!”?
PC: That’s funny! I did it yesterday in a restaurant when asked. I’m always happy when I see their reaction.
N: Another character you voiced for many years is Eeyore in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, who could not be more different from Optimus. Is voice acting the most varied form of acting, as far as playing varied types of characters?
PC: Voice acting doesn’t require costumes nor make up, and depending on one’s vocal range, it could be involve hundreds of characters over time. I only have to look at Frank Welker’s massive list to prove that.
N: Do you and Frank Welker have a friendly rivalry in the recording booth given how many times Optimus and Megatron have squared off over the years?
PC: We have worked together on many shows, and I consider him the second most talented guy in Hollywood; Jonathan Winters is first!! To make people laugh is one of the greatest things in life, and they are the greatest.
N: It’s been announced that this will be the final season for Prime; does the storyline have a satisfactory conclusion as far as you’re concerned? And can we already assume you’ll be voicing Optimus Prime in another series soon?
PC: I know fans will like what’s coming; That is about all I can say. As to the future, well, with the great imaginations of Transformers creators, I can confidently say there is a brilliant future, and I would be happy and proud to be along for that ride.