Peter Cullen and Frank Welker have spent decades voicing Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively. Playing 45 foot tall robots comes easy to them.
They’re still thrilled as ever, though. From big screen to small, they bring the passion and pitch-perfect performances you’d expect from badass veteran actors.
We sat to talk about legacy, milk and keeping things fresh after all these years to celebrate the DVD release of Transformers: The Last Knight on September 26.
So you’ve both played these roles for some time now. When you walk into the booth, is it easy? Or is there still a ton of prep that goes into this?
Peter: For me, none. It’s a role that’s very clear. It’s based on human characteristics, principles, traits of character that we all understand. The writers really stick to their guns and make sure that Optimus carries on those traits. It’s rather easy to do for me. So I just do an impression of my brother Larry who was a former marine. I just do his voice and employ those traits that were most common to him.
Do you find yourselves taking your characters home? Do you talk like that at the grocery store?
Frank: Only if there’s a big line. I can usually move through the line pretty fast. No I don’t think so. It really is work and it’s fun when you’re doing it. I don’t know about Peter’s voice, but when you’ve been doing it for a while it is painful. Especially if you’re doing fight stuff. So it’s better to leave it at the studio. It’s easy to put on and take off.
How has your characterization changed over the years?
Peter: I don’t think Optimus has changed. Except maybe in tone. We went from the little television to today where we have these huge screens. Then of course when you’re at home and you’re on blu-ray, the sound (makes big gesture). So it’s gravitated from the old little television box. On tv it was ‘Autobots, roll out!’ And now it’s (quieter, more sinister) ‘Autobots, roll out.’ So deeper, bigger, heavier you know? He’s 45 feet tall for crying out loud. Gee whiz!
Frank: Same thing, except mine has changed considerably. In G1 it was that kind of scratchy, ‘I am Megatron, Leader of the Decepticons.’ And then the later television version, Transformers Prime, it was more a (in a sinister voice) typical evil guy, with perhaps a bit more of the robotic sound. And then for Gaveltron in Transformers 4, it was (sinister voice) deeper, and meaner and nastier, and now, he has transformed into MEGATRON, LEADER OF THE DECEPTICONS. I CAN SPIT AND CHEW AS MUCH AS I WANT.
Peter: There were four people in that voice! (Laughs)
I did the ADR thing and thought ‘I could do this!’ But now seeing you, I’m not up to it. (Laughs)
Frank: It has changed a lot. And I’ve noticed also when u look at the models throughout the years, they’re all a little bit different. I kind of enjoy this latest iteration where Megatron is actually a jet. I like that.
How long do you think you’ll perform these roles? Are you going to pass the torch?
Peter: If luck is with me I’ll just keep going until I can’t. It’s not only a privilege to do it, but I’ve met a lot of great people over the years. People at NASA, a lot of people with military backgrounds; it’s been an eye-opener behind the scenes as well as on-camera. I hope I have an opportunity to continue on the good work because he’s inspired so many people. He’s done so many good things for people. I consider that an honor and a privilege.
Last question, do either of you have any paranoid habits with regard to your voices? Do you obsess about them everyday?
Peter: They were doing a checkup on me and they RAMMED THIS PLASTIC TUBE DOWN MY THROAT…
Frank: Obviously it was a Decepticon.
Peter: And they pull it out. The next day (in a hoarse voice) I was like this. I said oh that’s it. Career’s over. (in a high, helium assisted voice) My name is Optimus Prime. Transformers roll out.
Frank: (imitating a recording engineer) Let’s try it again Peter. A little bit deeper if you could.
It could be a prequel. Optimus as a child.
Peter: The one thing that has always stood out very clear to me is don’t drink milk before you record. I’m saying that today because I didn’t know I was going to be talking so much today. I had some dairy products and it’s obviously affected my throat.
We’re here, we’re surviving.
Frank: We were talking about insurance. You never know when you’ll fall or get hurt.
Just like J.Lo but with a voice.