A quick note for all would-be interviewers looking to get in a word edgewise with veteran Transformers voice actors Peter Cullen and Frank Welker when you've got them both in the same conversation: give up now and just let these two talk. The men behind Optimus Prime and Megatron have not only worked together for decades on shows outside of Transformers, but are good friends as well, with an easy rapport that you catch almost immediately when they get on the phone. The duo is indispensable to the 25-plus year old franchise, and it would be difficult to image what shape the the two men in their respective roles.
December 6th will see the DVD release of Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising, the Shout! Factory disc collecting the first arc of the new Hasbro-produced CG series on The Hub. Once again pitting the Autobots against the Decepticons in their seemingly eternal struggle, the battle returns to Earth with Megatron planning to escalate the conflict using the "blood" (as much as giant robots can be said to have blood) of ultimate franchise baddie, Unicron.
With the disc on the way next week, we thought we'd chat with Welker and Cullen--or at least let them talk while we listend--about the legacy of their characters, the unique working rapport they've developed over the years, and how innovations in CGI has allowed for more drama in Transformers.
MTV Geek: How are you doing, guys?
Frank Welker: Good morning, Peter.
Peter Cullen: Good morning, bud.
Geek: Are you guys in the same town right now?
Cullen: Uh, yes, we are—just opposite sides, but the same city.
Geek: How have you guys been enjoying working together on the current season of Prime?
Cullen: I gotta say it’s just a wonderful pleasure to be able to see Frank again and to work with him. We’ve reincarnated our glory days of Transformers and picked up where we left off. And it’s a riot.
Welker: Well, I will second that and working with Peter’s always a treat—we never quite know what’s going to happen from day to day, but it sure is great to see each other and reestablish old ties. You know, we have this rivalry of good and evil going back and it’s just fun to do battle with someone who you just like. [both laugh]
Cullen: Frank, I gotta mention this because it came to mind. The very first animated series I did with you—or for that matter, the first series I ever did—was Mighty Man and Yuck.
Welker: Oh! [both laugh]
Cullen: Where it was similar but not. I played a superhero—a millionaire, Brandon Brewster. Do you remember Brandon Brewster?
Welker: Yes, of course.
Cullen: Brandon turned into a miniature kind a Mighty Mouse, a superhero with a cape. And you played the dog, Yuck. We had to put a doghouse over your head and that was the beginning of our superhero relationship.
Welker: Yeah, and it was actually type casting. You were the hero and I was a dog with a house on my head. So, Charles, we’ve had this rivalry from the very beginning. And he’s always the hero and I’m either the villain or the dog with the house on his head.
Geek: What do you think keeps that rapport going after all this time? I mean, one of the most pleasant surprises was finding out that you guys were great friends outside of the VO booth—what keeps you working together?
Cullen: Well, I think it’s chemistry and—from my end—I have such an awed feeling when I’m working with Frankie and it’s no secret that I call him “The King.”
Cullen: Well, you are. I mean it. And just to be able to work with Frank on a continual basis over the years has always been one of the highlights of my life. I’ve always treasured every moment of it because for some reason that chemistry not only exists in the printed word script that we’re reading but it transcends into the off-mic hilarity and respect that we have for each other—[goes low into Optimus Prime’s voice] at least I hope so, Megatron.
Welker: Oh, absolutely. You know, it is kind of amazing that we’ve had the good fortune of knowing each other for so many years. I think Peter likes me because I always make sure to find a parking spot for him. I’ll take two and always make sure when he gets in he gets one. So, I think that’s one thing.
But as far as our acting goes, when you’ve worked with somebody for so long you tend to build up a rhythm. And when we walk into the studio, we could have been doing bears, or eagles, or cats, or something in another session and then when we walk in, we already sort of have this built-in rhythm from working with each other so that we can just step right into it. And that makes the working relationship really a lot of fun and work great for us, too.
Cullen: Oh, absolutely.
Yeah, there’s more than one moment of laughter. There’s—I’d say, in the process of a four hour session, there would be hilarity moments probably every 15 minutes. Even when you’re not speaking, Frank. Charles, he will do mimes. He’ll hit his knees or make a dramatic sound of some kind, or do something odd like make a little pillow with his head and his cheek, all in silence which will break me up completely and interfere with someone’s perfect read. And they’ll have to do it over because of Frank and me.
Welker: I think you’re giving away our professionalism here, Pete because actually, we work very, very hard. But, there is a certain amount of downtime and people think that Peter is this incredibly hard working, undeterred actor—which he is—but he’s also constantly trying to make me laugh and I’m constantly trying to make him laugh, so that keeps us entertained. And you know, when you’re working with an ensemble cast, those people are on mic, so you have to be very careful. And you figure, “Well, if I start doing mimes, I can do this quietly and see if I can make him laugh. If he does laugh, then he ruins the take, not me.”
Cullen: [laughs] Well, that’s true.
Geek: It sounds like you guys have so much fun together, why don’t we just have a buddy comedy starring you guys?
Cullen: Well that would be fun.
You remember Carl Weathers’ quote? Carl directed us in a long interview for something and there were about 20 questions. We answered two of them. And then they had to go out and get more for their cameras because they ran out of tape and we went on and on and on and on. But Carl Weathers suggested that we go on the road with this.
Geek: I’d watch your improvised animated adventures. That sounds like a good time.
Welker: Well, people don’t realize that Peter does fabulous impressions and I do a few. So we kind of get together and he might do the Duke and I might do you-know-who.
Cullen: [as John Wayne] Well, let’s not do it here, mister.
Welker: [drops an impersonation of frequent Wayne co-star, Walter Brennan] Well, I don’t see why not! We done it before and we might do it again!
Cullen: [still as the Duke] Well, thank you for that, Walter. You’re always a good friend when I need one.
Welker: [as Brennan] Well, somebody’s gotta be your friend.
So we go on and on with that stuff and drive people crazy. But it’s fun for us.
Cullen: Listen, Frank, you’ve been on The Tonight Show and every other leading talk show in the world and I recall a roast that you did on the Dean Martin Roast, and I think it was George Burns and sitting on the dais was the governor of California and soon-to-be-president of the United States Ronald Reagan. You skewered George Burns and you were doing the greatest impressions of people that, today, people might not remember or probably weren’t even born yet.
I mean, I was in awe of you then and I still am. But talk about impersonations, Charles—he does ten to one of what I do. Ten to one. I just keep doing the same ones over and over, he does another one every week. His Obama is fantastic.
Welker: [as Obama] Here’s the deal, Peter, the thing that Charles has to understand is that while Welker may do numbers and numbers and numbers of these things, you do quality. So quality as opposed to numbers is important, especially in this economy we want a lot of numbers, but they’ve got to be quality.
But enough about me.
Cullen: Thank you, Mr. President.
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