If you love Transformers, it's almost impossible to separate that love from Peter Cullen. The man has been the voice of Optimus Prime since 1984 and, be it in one of the live-action movies or a new web series, he's still going strong as the most famous Autobot in the galaxy. Go90 has just released the second chapter of their Prime Wars Trilogy, Transformers: Titans Return. This chapter marks the introduction of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime in the series.
Picking up right where the destruction of the Transformers: Combiner Wars left off, Transformers: Titans Return takes the action of the Prime Wars Trilogy to new heights, and features return appearances from many fan-favorite Transformers characters as well as introduces new Autobots and Decepticons. In the series, enormous Transformers called Titans are awakened and these massive characters bring massive problems. Trypticon, a gigantic lizard-like Transformer, rises to wreak havoc on Cybertron, while Windblade and a rag-tag team of Transformers must resurrect an ancient ally. Not all Transformers will survive, as beloved heroes are changed forever while others' sparks are blown to oblivion. Like Transformers: Combiner Wars, sophisticated storytelling reveals more than meets the eye for older audiences and kids of all ages when a sinister secret is discovered.
At 76-years-old, Peter Cullen has seen the Transformers franchise go through just about every iteration imaginable. Starting out as a humble cartoon series, eventually making its way to some of the biggest live-action movies on the planet and now, embracing the new age, as a web series produced by Machinima and Hasbro for go90. Though, just watching the trailer for Transformers: Titans Return, it's clear that Optimus Prime is still the same character, just in a different medium.
Peter Cullen will be joined by a host of fan favorites including Judd Nelson, who is reprising his roles of Rodimus Prime and Hot Rod from the 1986 animated Transformers movie, Michael Dorn as Fortress Maximus, Wil Wheaton as Perceptor, Nolan North as Metroplex and Jason David Frank as Emissary. They are joined by returning talent from Transformers: Combiner Wars, including Abby Trott (Windblade), Jason Marnocha (Megatron), Frank Todaro (Starscream), Lana McKissack (Mistress of Flame), and DashieGames (Menasor), as well as a new set of influencers like MatPat (Computron), Rob Dyke (Devastator) and Tay Zonday (Chorus of the Primes).
I had the opportunity to chat with Peter Cullen in honor of Transformers: Titans Return, which is currently available to watch on go90. We discuss how he got into voice acting, how the role of Optimus Prime has evolved over the years and much more. So, without further adieu, here's my chat with Peter Cullen.
The new show is about to come out. You've done this a ton of times over the years. Are you comfortable with it at this point? How are you feeling about it?
Peter Cullen: As always, stepping off on a new platform, it's exciting. It's overwhelmingly a new age and I've been at this since '84. So welcoming aboard Machinima and the whole new electronic age for entertainment, it's going so quickly. My brain is just settling down from HBO and Netflix and the new wave of people communicating. We're in this new age of entertainment through internet and the many ways of communicating. It is exciting. It's the birth. I'm electronically challenged in many ways and I'm not up to date on many of the new forms of communication. I have my phone and I have a computer, but you guys are way ahead of me on that stuff. But I think it's exciting to know that you can reach out to millions and millions of people. What I'm trying to say is, forgive me, you're putting up with a lot of words here.
No, no please. Go right on ahead.
Peter Cullen: The new areas of entertainment, I'm not up to date with, but certainly, the product is the same. I mean, it's entertainment, after all. I mean, I used to have to take a bus to stand in line and go to the movie theater when I was your age, or younger than you. Today, kids have it instantaneously, so there's a lot continuing to go on. It's very exciting. As I'm saying, the characters, the entertainment factor stays the same. There's always going to be good and evil. There's always going to be bad guys and good guys.
Getting to that point, like you said, the idea is the same. You've been doing this part for a long time. How have you managed to keep Optimus Prime fresh for so long? You've done it for so long, granted, like you said, over many mediums and many years, but how do you keep it fresh for a new project like this?
Peter Cullen: It's just consistency of character. Ryan, the character was originally conceived by some very good authors. Some very good writers, many years ago, and they employed the finest character values to accomplish that. And an actor's job is to interpret those words and to convey them. And then, of course, if you can provide a further extension of any one of those, the better for the role and for the character. It can be equally said for playing an evil character. Anybody that can employ and further expression to make the character more sinister or evil, you know, it just enhances the character. I had the great opportunity to be a part of that. It looks like it was successful.
I'd say so. You've been playing the part since 1984 but the movies are still kind of a recent development. How did Optimus change for you when you started for the live-action movies? Because that must have been one of the bigger shifts you've had in your career, I would imagine.
Peter Cullen: Yeah. Well, it was no longer the generation one cartoon. It wasn't in any way or form. All of the sudden, you've gone from working with a cast in the same room and sharing a state of the art animation at the time, which was cells. Then to jump forward 20 years and to be communicating with a big-time director and on-screen actors. So Optimus Prime steps from the animated cell world, into the world of human life and suddenly he has to be communicating on a human level. That was one of the biggest challenges, certainly. I didn't feel it was a challenge, because all it is is acting. But the director and producers were quite concerned; could I act? I said, 'What the hell do you think cartoon voice acting is?' Of course I can act. I mean, you're reading lines. You've gotta make them believable. But I think, to be fair, they're used to watching cartoons, the powers that be, and go, 'it's not real.' Guys are pretending they're dogs, or a moose, or whatever. Can he speak to another human being as an actor? So their concerns were real, but so is Optimus Prime.
That's a great way to put it. I have a distinct memory of seeing Optimus transform on screen for the first time and it was just a huge thing for me to see that become real. And it felt like this interesting transition from the cartoon to the live-action. It was seamless. But you said acting is acting. Did you always see yourself getting into voice acting, specifically? I've always had a tremendous respect for voice artists and that's really what your career has been. Was that always your goal? Did you have different aspirations when you started out?
Peter Cullen: You're taking me back a long time ago. I don't know whether to say thank you or not. Ryan, I can respond to that lightly by saying I was destined to do voices and sounds and things. When I was younger, I had no aspirations of being an actor by any means, but I certainly could do sounds. I was like the Gerald McBoing-Boing of the day. He was a little character, a little kid that could impersonate anything and subsequently, stop burglaries by doing a police siren. Anyway, I had no intentions of becoming a voice actor. I did it primarily out of necessity. Back in the 70s, I was doing The Sonny and Cher show. After that show, none of the guys could get arrested. Including me. Nobody wanted to be associated with the last of the so called, 'comedy variety hours.' I started looking at voiceover and I got my first job and never looked back. So I never included on-camera as part of my regular sustenance.
You've done tons of work, but Optimus has really been your big credit. Similar to the way that Paul Reubens is always going to be associated with Pee-wee Herman, I feel, in a great way, you will always be Optimus Prime to people. How do you feel, as an actor, being so closely associated with one, specific role?
Peter Cullen: I don't mind at all. I don't mind. I have no misgivings. And I have no failed concepts about my career. Any actor should be grateful for opportunities that have turned lucrative and, in this case, golden. I've raised a family for a certain period of that time and I genuinely appreciate it. But I think, more importantly, I'm grateful for the people that conceived the character. I'm grateful for the series itself and I'm humbled by what has been accomplished through his presence as an iconic hero. It's an honor. More so, in my mind, because I relate it to very personal things. I'm very grateful.
Transformers is one of the biggest franchises on the planet. How has it been for you, as such a big face of that franchise, being a part of something that has such a dedicated fanbase these days?
Peter Cullen: The sense that the character hasn't changed, equally, I haven't either. I always have a moment where I look around and say, 'Wow! This is an amazing thing.' It's transcended so many generations successfully. And it takes a lot of people and a lot of ideas to make that happen. I'm just part of it. The results have been very colorful, from G1 to the present day. The amount of generous acclaim it's received, and in some cases, not so generous, because change is always a hard thing to accept. Instinctively, not too many people like change. They like things to be secure and nice. We've certainly seen the Transformers change. That's, in some cases, difficult.
Wrapping up, what's next for you? Anything else you've got coming down the pipeline?
Peter Cullen: I haven't disappeared off of the entertainment network completely yet. After a movie, everything gets quiet for a little while, but today its Machinima and Titans. This is a fun deal and just elongating the many avenues of Transformers' ability to entertain. Here we are in the electronic age of YouTube and internet and, I've had the chance to look at some of it and it's really great. I'm enjoying it and I wish it a huge future because I think it's gonna have one.
If you missed the Transformers: Combiner Wars, you can get caught up using the link below. Also, be sure to check out the trailer for Transformers: Titans Return, if you haven't already. Transformers: Titans Return is available on go90 now.