Peter Cullen Panel Notes

Peter Cullen sat down to do a Panel at Botcon this afternoon.  He was emotional at some points over the support of the fandom, and despite an overused voice, he did numerous voices to the delight of all attending.  For those following along at home, there's a rough transcript of the Q&A below. 

Also mentioned at the panel, Paramount has previously announced this but we are the first to get the details.  There will be a new contest beginning on Oct 2nd, the "Make Prime Speak" contest.  You will be able to send in a line for Cullen at  The voting begins on Oct 16th, and they will narrow them to 30, and then one will be chosen to be said in the movie.

Click Read More to read on!

As with the previous panel notes, please excuse this being a little roughshod.  These notes are paraphrased in some cases.

Started by doing the voice "Autobots, Transform"

Greeted everyone and thanks us for supporting him.

Q-Did you approach the movie people or did they come to you?
A-Dreamworks and Spielberg called his agent and gave him an audition.  He went and read twice, and then found out shortly before Comic-con in San Diego.  He was at a Marine Corp. reunion.

Q-Did you call Frank Welker and casually mention that you got the part?
A-Talked to him before getting the role, but not since.

Q-We live in a troubled time.  If you could really be Optimus Prime and you could make a difference, what would you do?
A-"Am I speaking as a Democrat or as a Republican?  Ironhide would say [in voice] 'Let's get out there and kick some butt!'  Optimus would be more optimistic.  When you live in dangerous times, cooler heads prevail. "

Q-How were you introduced to Transformers?
A-Went to a cattle call.  Had a script, picture, and character breakdown and said "what the heck is this?"  Read breakdown, saw it as a leader, tried to sound like that.

Q-Did you sign for more movies?
A-To his knowledge he have a three picture deal.  [Applause]

Q-In an interview with Tom and Don, they said Bay put you through your paces.  How does that compare to previous cartoon work?
A-Takes every audition as they come.  This one was very difficult because of some rumours he had heard about other voice actors who had gotten the role, and because he didn't know if Bay knew the character well.  The fan support helped.

Q-When you are recording the movie, will you be with other actors or one at a time?
A-"I assume I'll be working alone."

Q-Rumours of getting Robert DiNiro as a body coach, do you know about that?
A-"No I can't comment about that."  [Editor's note: tone suggested he just didn't know]

Q- What was your first realization of the popularity of the role you were playing?
A- 1997 at Botcon convention.  The outpouring of emotion when talking to fans, listened to that and it had affected people's lives.  Pasadena and NYC before the movie.  After Rochester felt that he had a personal commitment to the fan base.  [Optimus voice] "And now there's a movie…"

Q-When you create the voice of Optimus, what's the defining characteristic of who he is?
A-"If I had to pick one, I'd have to say honor, dignity, understanding, sensitivity…"

Q-When you did the original movie, did voicing Prime's death pull any emotional strings for you?  Did you feel any regret at him dying?
A-"When I was reading it for the first time, before I actually performed it, I was with Frank Welker and I read it and [acts freaked out].  'Frank look!  I'm gettin' smacked! I don't believe this!'"[Cries]

Q-After they killed off Optimus and they called you to come back and voice him again, was there an explanation?
A-"No, not really.  I didn't expect an explanation and I didn't really understand what was going on again."

Q-How does it feel to be stepping back into the shoes again?
A-"It feels great.  I know it's an important character to people.  I'm previledged to do it."

Q-Which was more fun to voice, Prime or Ironhide?
A-[Ironhide voice] Aw, c'mon…it's always fun to do Ironhide!!!"

Q-As a professional, which do you think performs the best results: recording one at a time or with the others?
A-"I think it helps to get to know the other characters but I don't think it's essential as a rule of thumb as long as a guy gets to know the people he's working with. Sometimes working with people helps the emotion of the performance."

Q-Recent toy trend has been to do evil Prime repaints.  How would you do an evil Prime voice?
A-"What are you talkin' about?  Evil Optimus Prime?  Not in my lifetime."

Q-What characters are your favorite?
A-"The ones I do or other people do? [Either} Well, they're all fun at the time but they come and go so fast…I enjoyed Murky from Rainbow Brite, based on Jackie Gleason."

Q-Could you do Binger from Dungeons and Dragons?
A-That was an ultimate bad guy.  [Does voice]

Q-Can you talk about how you got the job as Predator?
A-"I had just finished King Kong (11 roles), and they were all hard on the throat and emotional and crying and being mean.  At the end I started coughing up blood and decide I was done doing monster noises.  When they alled him for this he said he wasn't doing monster sounds, but he met with them anyway.  They asked him to come up with a sound, but we can't show you what he looks like.  What, should I do 50,000 sounds and you pick one you like?  They showed him a few images finally.  When he saw the unhelmeted Pred, he thought of a dying Horshoe Crab.  He said ok, and did the voice.  (couldn't do it tonight, he's done too much Ironhide)  The director was a little annoyed because he couldn't hear it, He brought the mic close by and did it again.  The director was perturbed and had to go hear it in the sound booth, at which point they did the whole movie in one day."

Q-Have you seen other actors playing Prime/Primal, and what did you think of their performances professionally?
A-No, once he was buried he didn't care any more [laughter].

Q-When you read for Optimus for the movie, did you read for Ironhide?
A-"No, they didn't ask, but when I read for a scene and the assistant wasn't doing very well reading for Ironhide, I took the pressure off of her and did it for her.  Bay must have thought I was nuts."

Q-I'm assuming you've seen the script.  Is it close to the original characters?
A-"I've only read two pages so far, sorry.  Actually I did have another page, where I read a page with Witwicky.  Bay's concern was whether I could be one on one with a human in a normal manner.  He was very satisfied with the performance.  You might see more casualness with Prime but he seems to retain his strength."

Q-Since you've been involved with so many projects with toy lines, are you a collecter and if so what is your SECOND favorite toy?
A-"I bought a G1 Prime today and put big bucks out for it.  He would be my first choice.  I'm kind of self centered, so I guess Ironhide.  I want to be able to leave it to my grandkids, I'd like them to have my characters as a legacy for them.  The other is Eeyore."

Q-When you do the announcemnts for Tsunami, and you were announcing a new TF series, how did that feel?
"A-I have blackouts… I went in and did the job.  I don't take it personally.  It's a big world, and TF's are from a huge collaboration from numerous companies and it generates a lot of industry.  Life goes on, and I read the script and not having any previous feelings to it outside of personal wants, I treated it as a job and went about my business."

"I'm writing a book, the beginning my career when I came to Hollywood and did Sony and Cher.  I'm trying to work up to being Optimus and do the years following that somewhat.  Where was I?  I'm trying to recall a lot of my favorite sequences and things.  I want to sell at LEAST a couple of hundred books."

Q-D&D was 27 episodes.  TF came later.  Did D&D finish up first or were they at the same time?
A-"I don't really remember, I'd have to look online.  I don't think so."

Q-In Chicago Greg Berger told a story about Mel Blanc.  Did you ever work for him or Chuck Jones?
A-I've worked with both.  Mel Blanc I go back as far as when I was a child and could barely read; I was so impressed with him that I sat through the credits, determined to find out who he was.  I think that helped me read.  He was one of my heroes.  I worked with him on Captain Caveman. 

Q-Have you visited the movie set and seen the Prime design and what did you think?
A-No on all of it.  When I was doing the scene with Witwicky, the studio was close by, and I saw Prime and some people in costumes.  It looked very very expensive.  It's gonna be gooooood.

Q-Have you kept in touch with the original VA's?
A-Not really unless I've worked with them, like Frank Welker or Corey Burton recently.  A lot of them moved on and I wouldn't recognize anyway after so long (and some are gone, as you know).

Q-What was your favorite moment in the series?
A-"There were so many, it's hard to point to a particular one of them.  Unless I dislike a role, I enjoy it and I am grateful for the opportunity.  You hope that you do the best you can.  If you'v done the best you can, you still think "boy, I fooled them again"."

Q-As a VA, what happens if you miss too much work for illness?  Is there something in place to replace you?
A-Not to my knowledge, but I've done work with broken ankles or ribs.  Business doesn't wait for you, you've gotta be there.

Q-Have you met other people who did Prime and what do you think of their performance?
A-"Not that I know of. I don't have an opinion on their work."

Q-Do you have any stories about Chris Latta?
A-"God bless him, he's gone.  He was a very energetic guy.  :Hollywood is the only town that devours its' young".  He had a very complicated life and I hope he's happier now.  The people I worked with were great and the recording sessions were fun, alive, creative, and not always without hysteria.  We'd sometimes laugh without being able to stop, we had happy times."

Q-[inane question about MLP]
A-"I would love to answer that question but I can't for the life of me remember that show."

Q-How do you take care of your voice.
A-[Fakes losing his voice]  [cowboy drawl] "I keep it well oiled with some umbered liquid.
I still go to football games and yell and scream.  I can't do all of the voices I did when I was young, the vocal cords take wear as you get older."

Q-Do your kids and grandkids sound like you?
A-My son is a great stuntman, Clay Cullen.  He calls occasionally and "does" me.  He's taller, stronger, better looking, and I'm a grandfather!

Q-You talked about being impressed with Mel Blanc as a child.  Did that drive you to pursue this career?
A-"It's interesting, when a child shows interest in one thing or another, it's a good way to tell that he's locked onto something that's going to affect his life.  In my case I was tuned to Mel Blanc and what he could do, and I started doing animals and then people, I think it was the fact that I was enlightened by him that it was like a trapdoor opened in my brain.  I like to encourage kids, that's the greatest thing you can do for them."

Q-The way we see you, you are the voice actor of Jack Nicholson.  If you could tap into your respect and power as a VA, is there something you haven't done that you'd like to?
A-"I'd like to continue doing what I'm doing.  I like to keep my ambitions high and I like challenge.  I just want to live long enough to maintain my interest and keep breathing."

Q-Do you recall any groan-worthy lines from any of your characters?
A-"No, that didn't happen.  The writers on the cartoon for Transformers were brilliant, great talent.  I don't remember reading a line I didn't like.  Maybe in other areas of my life, but not TF's."

Q-What's your favorite movie?
A-"Ask me later, I'm not sure.  I keep changing my mind."

Q-Can you give me a "day in the life" of your career?
A-"I do a lot of auditioning.  There are no guarantees in the voiceover business.  I do Cartoon Network, I'll be doing TNT, a couple of trailers in New York.  I'll do Winnie the Pooh, I have a new show called my friends Tigger and Pooh coming up.  Things are pretty much the same as they've always been.  It's a volume business unless you're a big superstar on camera.  Generally speaking in the VA world, you're doing a cartoon or a straight voice."

Q-[From Allspark mod Cheetimus] Are you wearing the red flannel and blue jeans on purpose?
A-[Laughter][stands up] "You guys are the best!  Thank you!"


After the panel, a fan came up and gave Cullen a piece of art he'd done.  Optimus is standing in front of Peter.  In addition, all of the TF characters Peter had voiced are present somewhere in the art.  It was very touching.