Peter Cullen — The Voice of Optimus Prime — On Saving Mankind Through The Power of Transformers
Famed voice actor Peter Cullen still remembers the feeling of surprise he had at his first fan convention when he realized how much characters like Optimus Prime, whom he voiced throughout the Transformers series and films, meant to fans. In an extended chat at Comic-Con, Cullen revealed how a pre-audition chat with his Vietnam veteran brother inspired his take on the Transformers hero and how, years later, he's working with NASA and HASBRO to foster interest in science, math, and space in the latest generation of young fans. (Scroll down for the full 30-minute chat and let your nerd hearts melt, people.)
Movieline correspondent Grace Randolph was on hand at Comic-Con to speak with Cullen, whose heartfelt discussion of his work on Transformers, G.I. Joe, and other seminal cartoons of the '80s can be seen in its entirety below.
"I based the character on my own brother, Larry Cullen," recalled the voice acting legend of the day he headed to audition for Transformers. "Larry was a Marine Corp officer in Vietnam, he was a wounded medal recipient – he had two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star – and we lived together in Burbank, California."
"You’ve got to understand that Larry is six inches taller, he’s got a deeper voice, and he’s probably the most honest, truthful, gentle, understanding, strong guy I ever known," he continued. "He was my hero. I said, 'I’m going to audition for a truck.' He said, 'What a way to make a living.' I said, 'But Larry, he’s a hero.'"
"He says, 'Interesting – well, Peter, be a real hero. Don’t be one of those Hollywood prototypes, be real. Be strong enough to be gentle, don’t be yelling and screaming all the time. That’s my advice, Peter – take it or leave it.'"
His brother's advice informed Cullen's audition for Optimus Prime, and the rest is history. "Larry just jumped off the page when I started reading him," he remembered, "and inside, spiritually, I felt something really connect. I had a feeling. I said, this is going to work. This is good. Nobody’s ever heard anything like this before. Nobody’s done it like this before. I left that audition and I said to myself, 'If I don’t get this, there’s something wrong in the world.'
Cullen, who reprised the role of Optimus Prime on The Hub's Emmy-winning Transformers: Prime series and says he saw himself as a sort of latchkey father figure to his young fans throughout the years, is working with HASBRO, The Hub, and NASA to encourage interest in the sciences and space in youngsters. The effort "will benefit the children of this country and around the world, to develop their enthusiasm for space, whether it’s in fiction or whether it’s in fact, science, technology, math, medicine – everything that’s connected with space.
"If Optimus Prime can stir up enthusiasm in some form of interest that will benefit mankind by creating that enthusiasm to venture somewhere above and beyond our earth, I think Prime should."
Watch the full chat with Peter Cullen below.
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