Geek: How does it feel bringing these characters around to a new generation of viewers every few years or so?
Cullen: In my case, it’s been a little longer. When this whole thing started up—when the Hub Network launched, this was probably the most exciting time, to me, following a couple of feature films for Transformers. You know, with Hasbro and The Hub, that combination is such a delight to begin with. They’re wonderful people to work with—number one.
But having provided the opportunity to bring this back to a new generation of kids is a very positive thing and I think it’s at the beginning stages—it’s at a fledgling stage—of great impact and I’m particularly proud of that because there’s so many good things that come out of this cast. And “character” is probably one of the biggest strengths. So many great people. And thank God for The Hub and thank God for Hasbro for brining along, again, a great opportunity.
Welker: Yeah, it’s an especially fun show to work on in this particular iteration because for me, what I like is [with] Megatron, the writing gives you time to develop. With the story, the way it goes from show to show, there’s a lot more time for the characters to develop and for the show to actually develop.
And you know, when we did Generation One, everything moved so fast and that was the style then. And your character’s just—it’s really so, so fast. You never really got a chance to go in-depth with the characters in terms of playing [them]. And here, we have Megatron and Optimus actually spending time talking to one another, still with a lot of fighting, but there’s some time where they’re just talking to each other and it gives a lot more depth to a range performance because you’re down and you’re talking low instead of just constantly fighting. And you get to see a little bit more about why the character feels the way he does and where you’re going.
And the CGI stuff is just absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come from the G1 which we thought was pretty cool back then. But now, the CGI it just stands up and it’s so beautiful. It gives you a lot more dimension, I think, and a lot more room to play. And as Peter said, our cast is just terrific. And working with some of these young folks, to sit and watch their energy and excitement, it’s all brand-new again.
Cullen: So true. You know, Frank, I was not part of seeing the Arclight presentation of Transformers: Prime recently, I had some complications so I missed it. But when you described to me the scene on the big screen, how surprised you were and elated that it was so incredible that you could see an animated feature coming out of this that sparked my interest because just watching television is one thing.
Welker: It stood up so well and seeing it on the big screen, you see the subtleties. And when the characters are actually fighting, a lot of times you don’t see the subtlety on television. And I was truly impressed with that.
Cullen: I still haven’t seen it. I will, eventually.
Geek: Having actually watched that first block of episodes, there’s a lot of really great detail in the character design and emotiveness in the faces. Did these new visual takes on the characters impact how you played the roles at all?
Cullen: Well, for Optimus, there’s this concentration, a film-like quality, that creates more intimate moments. And I think that brings out a quieter side Optimus Prime that Generation One didn’t quite have. But in saying that, as well, the film-like quality behind the scenes makes it more realistic.
And that reality is so prominent now so that you can get into subtleties with each other on a performance level that we didn’t really have before. It was more cartoon-oriented but this is more realistic. And so I think we’re treating it a little differently in our characters, somewhat. I’ve concentrated it more into an acting persona than it would have been otherwise.
I’m enjoying that in particular. When Frank and I have some of these allied moments where we’re both talking as two real humans, you know, Autobot-humans, that sense of actor-character—
Welker: It lets us get into the more subtle areas. And you can dig around a little bit more. Like in Generation One, we had to—you’re “up” all the time because you just need to be at that level. But now with the CGI, you’ve got a little bit more mouth movements and body movements and it opens up a whole other range of performance which is really desirable.
Geek: I simply love that introspection you guys have about how you tackle these different incarnations of the characters. Sitting here listening to you guys talk about these characters you’ve been voicing for the last two decades and change, you get a real sense of investment in them.
At this point, do you feel any kind of ownership there? When you go into the booth, do you ever say “Well, Megatron wouldn’t say this,” or “Optimus would probably say it this way?”
Welker: Well, when I watch Peter—and I have to say this, because he probably won’t say this for himself—he watches Optimus to a “t” and he’s very good about picking up anything that isn’t really his character—what his character wouldn’t say or wouldn’t do or how he would react. And he catches him in those little moments from time to time that it’s impressive to see how he does that. He would go, “Well, I don’t think Optimus would say it quite like this, lemme show you how I see it.” And he does it and they go, “Whoa, well, you’re right.” And I think that’s somebody who really knows their character and really is totally into it.
Cullen: Well, yeah, I think outside of Prime, I’ve had opportunities to be Prime and to stretch him into another dimension that he’s never been before.
Geek: What are your thoughts on some of the ways the franchise and the characters have changed over the years? You mentioned earlier that G1 was all about getting it done and getting it done quickly, whereas what do you feel Prime is?
Cullen: Well, I don’t think [the character] of Prime has changed at all. I think his definitions are still there. I think they’re dedicated to the qualities of what Prime represents.
And we’re able to function with the cast, and as Frank mentioned, they’re probably some of the best that I’ve worked with. And there’s such a respect for what we’re doing [and] I think that translates 100% in the studio.
So, we’re maintaining that line and we’re going to continue with it.
Welker: Yeah, I’d have to agree. In years past it wasn’t just “time to get it done” or anything, but it was the style of what was going on during that time and we made it fit for what we were doing.
And now, having this iteration, like I said one of the most pleasurable things to me is being able to have range: to be able to go very low, very subtle, very slow, then go high and crazy and wild or whatever. But to have a lot more dramatic range to play is fun as an actor.
Cullen: We had the opportunity to see Jeffrey Combs, who plays Ratchet, perform his one-man show about Edgar Allan Poe called Nevermore at the Steve Allen theater and that’s just another opportunity to [do that].
If I could describe the feeling that we have in that booth, we have Ernie Hudson, Steve Blum, and Josh Keaton, and Tania Gunadi, and Sumalee Montano—you know, if I’m omitting somebody, it’s only because we have a minute or so.
Well, we look forward to it, don’t we, Frank?
Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising hits DVD on December 6th from Shout! Factory.
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