‘Transformers: Age of Extinction': Optimus Prime actor talks tough

May 15, 2014 | 8:00 a.m.
cast Transformers: Age of Extinction: Optimus Prime actor talks tough

Mark Wahlberg, left, Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor on the set of "Transformers: Age of Extinction." (Andrew Cooper / Paramount Pictures)

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Grimlock and Optimus Prime in a scene from "Transformers: Age of Extinction." (Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount Pictures)

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Director Michael Bay, left, discusses a scene with Mark Wahlberg, who plays Cade Yeager, on the Detroit set of "Transformers: Age of Extinction." (Paramount Pictures)

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"Transformers: Age of Extinction" director Michael Bay demonstrates a scene with Nicola Peltz, who plays Tessa Yeager. (Paramount Pictures)

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Director Michael Bay, second from right, and others work on the set of "Transformers: Age of Extinction."

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Mark Wahlberg in a poster for "Transformers: Age of Extinction." (Paramount Pictures)

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Nicola Peltz as Tessa Yeager in a poster for "Transformers: Age of Extinction." (Paramount Pictures)

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Jack Reynor as Shane in a poster for "Transformers: Age of Extinction." (Paramount Pictures)

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Optimus Prime gets a fancy new makeover for "Transformers: Age of Extinction," courtesy of Western Star. (Andrew Cooper / Paramount)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: A special race-inspired C7 Corvette Stingray, based on Chevrolet's upcoming 2014 production car. (Andrew Cooper / Paramount)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: A 1,200-horsepower Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse worth more than $2.4 million. (Andrew Cooper / Paramount)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: Bumblebee, a 2014 Concept Camaro. (Paramount Pictures)

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Bumblebee is reimagined in the form of a highly modified, vintage 1967 Camaro. (Andrew Cooper / Paramount Pictures)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: The 2013 Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 Coupe. (Paramount Pictures)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: This fierce, 2013 blood red Pagani Huayra, is named after an ancient Andean god of wind. (Paramount Pictures)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: The imposing 2014 Argosy cab-over truck by Freightliner, from Daimler Trucks North America. (Paramount Pictures)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: The Ultimate Sonic RS. (Paramount Pictures)

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Meet one of the newest members of the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" cast: The rugged and reliable Hound, one of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles from Oshkosh Defense. (Andrew Cooper / Paramount Pictures)

Auditioning with director Michael Bay for the role of Optimus Prime in 2007’s live-action movie adaptation of the beloved animated series “Transformers,” Canadian-born vocal artist Peter Cullen was aware that his previous accomplishments hardly guaranteed his place in a big-budget Hollywood movie.

“It’s kind of surreal to audition for a character that you basically created,” said Cullen, who originated the Autobot’s stentorian voice in TV performances from 1984 to ‘87. “But I didn’t expect Michael to know what I knew about ‘Transformers.’ I was ready for anything.”

Bay, of course, appointed him Optimus in that blockbuster film and two other hit “Transformers” sequels that have combined to gross a staggering $2.7 billion worldwide.

Come June 27, Cullen will return in his role as fandom’s favorite alien-born Kenworth K100 truck cum sentient battle-bot in “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” In this go-round, Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LaBeouf as the Autobots’ primary human bulwark against the marauding Decepticons. But don’t look to Cullen for advance intel.

“I never get to see an entire script,” he said. “I don’t really have to. Because Prime is Prime. He’s going to react to whatever he’s reacting to without knowing what’s going on in the future.”

Turning up in “Transformers” video games, toys, TV reruns, DVDs and amusement park rides, Cullen’s vocalizations have made him something of a star, with his own Twitter following to prove it.

At personal appearances at fan events such as San Diego’s Comic-Con International, the 72-year-old grandfather (whose career also includes gigs narrating film trailers and TV commercials as well as parts in the animated “G.I. Joe” and “Winnie-the-Pooh” series) still finds himself stunned by the attention but always obliges Optimus aficionados’ requests to recite cherished dialogue.

“One of the most popular is, ‘Autobots transform and roll out!’ because it was said so often on the series,” the soft-spoken voice actor said. “But I always come up with another one” — Cullen lapsed into Optimus’ commanding battlefield growl — “ ‘One shall stand, one shall fall!’ And then they go, ‘Jeez!’”

Contractually obligated to continue voicing Optimus in at least two more “Transformers” sequels, Cullen has no plans to retire his robot-in-disguise alter ego anytime soon. Moreover, having based the characterization on his older brother, a decorated Marine Corps officer who served in Vietnam, the actor feels a sense of responsibility to the franchise’s faithful.

“My brother said, ‘Peter, be a real hero. Don’t do all the bravado stuff and pretend to be tough. Be strong enough to be gentle. Be understanding — and calm,’” Cullen said. “When I began the audition, his voice came right out. I read the lines the way I could hear my brother doing it.

“Now, maintaining those characteristics — courage, trustworthiness, integrity, loyalty — you’re responsible for something to the kids who watch Optimus Prime. I want to be a positive influence rather than just fighting and sock, bang, boom!”

– Chris Lee | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


One Response to ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction': Optimus Prime actor talks tough

  1. prowler says:

    I love you, Peter Cullen. You are my hero.

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