Peter Cullen has been giving a voice to Optimus Prime for decades now, and the actor considers his role as the leader of the Autobots to be something of a legacy. Since first taking the part in the ’80s Cullen’s depiction of the gravely-voiced robot helped make the character an icon, so much so that the actor was brought on to provide his vocal talents to the five feature films in the Transformers franchise, but that hasn’t stopped him from returning to the world of animation.
Machinima’s Transformers: Titans Return premiered recently on Verizon’s go90, picking up right where Transformers: Combiner Wars left off, and this time they invited Cullen along to once again voice Optimus Prime. Cullen is joined by a few familiar voices as well; namely, Judd Nelson, who reprises his role as Rodimus Prime and Hot Rod from the 1986 animated film Transformers: The Movie, Michael Dorn as Fortress Maximus, and Will Wheaton as Perceptor.
Screen Rant had a chance to discuss Cullen’s return to animation and talk with him about his impressive career voicing one of the most famous robots of all time.
How does it feel being back in the role of Optimus Prime in this new animated series?
Well, I’m not working with the full cast. I’m just working by myself again, like I do in the feature films. It is still pleasant, though. It certainly reminds me of the fact that Transformers isn’t disappearing by any means. And that’s a good thing.
For those who’ve been following Transformers for as long as the franchise has been around, these new animated series are a return to form in some regard. Do these new stories give you a sense of nostalgia while you’re working on them?
Yeah, they do. There’s something really special about it. The fact that it’s gone on for so long, that by itself is a very interesting feat. It’s probably the only thing in my career that has been like that. I’m beginning to feel that it’s a legacy, you know? How many people can say that? I never thought that I would be associated with anything that lasted so long. An actor gets used to the run of a show and then moves on to something else.
As the Transformers franchise marches on, with both animated and live-action projects continually coming out, Optimus Prime continues to be a draw for new and old fans. What is it about the series and the character that’s so enduring?
Certainly we had nothing to go on that would give us any feeling of success or failure. No fan mail, and certainly no press or anything related to the success or failure of the show. I was always amazed later on in my career to find out how successful Transformers had become, and in particular the character of Optimus Prime, how he had carved a niche in so many people’s lives. To go further than that, you get into the feature films, and discover that whole new generations of people are sharing the same feelings. That to me has been a phenomenon, and it took a little while to get used to — as I said, we had nothing to go on until, perhaps the internet. And back in the day, before the internet there was virtually nothing, and I only lasted until 1986, then I moved on. It’s been a long ride; it really is an amazing turn of events for me personally, and I might add that I’m very honored by it and certainly feel a sense of responsibility to people that made that possible. It’s certainly due to my fan base and I owe them a great deal.
As for Optimus Prime, for me personally, the character exists because of his personality traits. He was wonderfully created and the people that were responsible for that knew what they were doing. They wanted a leader, they wanted a character that would resonate with the public in a way that really hadn’t been done before. At least I couldn’t name a character similar to Prime that was written that way. We had Batman and Superman and Spider-Man and all these other heroes, but they don’t ring the same bell that Optimus Prime does. And certainly they didn’t ring the bell the way I interpreted the character, as well. That said, those ingredients translated into a very successful character that I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to play and continue to play.
What sort of challenges did you face when you first took the role? Was it ever a difficult to make Optimus relatable given that he’s both an alien and a robot?
It wasn’t hard. He was written from the very beginning to have all the ingredients there. Optimus hasn’t changed. I think in the future audiences will always appreciate a character that is reliable and trustworthy and that you can look up to.
In all the times you’ve voiced Optimus Prime, is there one performance that you feel rises above the rest?
Nothing really stands out. I do have my own preferences when it comes to a script, certainly I prefer when the script offers moments of compassion and understanding and a gentler side to the hero. Those are always opportunities to convey something outside the box and in many cases that presents a challenge. To be specific, I don’t have any one [performance] in particular. I really love scenes where Optimus can relate to people. When he shows feelings where you can say, ‘Well that’s me, I understand that.’ I love scenes like that.
That being said, Generation 1 will always remain one of my favorites. The relationships with the machines to each other and their differences… I think [the writers] accomplished what they set out to do… I loved Generation 1. That’s my pet. If I had to make a choice, G1 would be the standard for me. It was the beginning; it was the structure that stuck with everybody.
Transformers: Titans Return is available on go90.
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