Peter Claver Cullen (born July 28, 1941 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian voice actor best known as the voice of Optimus Prime in the original Generation 1 incarnation of The Transformers. Cullen might have just been the first of many voice actors to lend their vocals to the Autobot leader, until 2007 when the live-action film series began and he returned to voice Optimus in all five films as well as the Bumblebee spin-off. So celebrated was the news that he was the former Trope Namer for And the Fandom Rejoiced, under the name "Cue Cullen".
Since 2007 he has become the iconic voice of Prime, returning to the role in Transformers: Prime, Transformers: Rescue Bots, Transformers: Robots in Disguise, the tie-in web animations The Transformers: Titans Return and The Transformers: Power of the Primes, and numerous video games including the tie-ins to the movie series, Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and Transformers: Devastation. Cullen's voice is so closely associated with the character these days that on the rare occasion he isn't voicing Optimus, whoever is will probably be doing their best impression of Cullen.
Before he ended up filling Prime's tire tracks, Cullen did prolific voice work through the 60s, 70s and 80s. He has narrated and played Coran (Raible in the original) and King Alfor (King Raimon) in the Lion Voltron (GoLion) series, the transforming spaceship/robot Ramrod (Bismarck in the original) in the 1980s anime series Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs (Sei Juushi Bismarcknote ), Commander James Hawkins in the Vehicle Voltron (Dairugger XV) series, Eeyore in Winnie-the-Pooh, Venger in Dungeons & Dragons, the narrator, Murky Dismal, and Skydancer in Rainbow Brite, Eddie Spenser in Filmation's Ghostbusters, the Predator in the original film, King Kong in the 1976 remake, and KARR in Knight Rider.
Cullen also holds the distinction of being the first voice actor for Mario in any language (in the Donkey Kong segments from Saturday Supercade),note . For many years he provided voice-overs for Toonami's promos (as "the big guy"). Cullen's roars for King Kong were also repurposed for the character of Bowser in all Mario games between Super Mario 64 and New Super Mario Bros. (along with a series of synthesized roars, snarls, and laughs), thus unintentionally giving him two voice credits for the Mario series. Cullen also voiced Monterey Jack on Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers for the first season, but was replaced by Jim Cummings for the rest of the series (Cummings had already voiced Monterey Jack in the five-part pilot movie "To The Rescue").
Transformers also wasn't his first collaboration with Frank Welker. His earliest animation role was as Mighty Man in Ruby-Spears' "Mighty Man and Yukk" segments on The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show, with Frank as Yukk. He later voiced Sourpuss the family cat opposite Frank's Chomp-Chomp the family dog in Hanna-Barbera's Pac-Man series.
I am Peter Cullen, and I send these tropes to any surviving tropers out there among the stars
- Actor Allusion: Greg Sepelak and Trent Troop, writers for several pieces of Transformer lore and merchandise, have said that in their minds, the Shattered Glass incarnation of Optimus Prime sounds like Venger from Dungeons & Dragons.
- Badass Baritone: Cullen's voice is naturally deep and very distinct. When he's playing a villain, he qualifies for Evil Sounds Deep.
- Creator Cameo: A tie-in comic to the live-action films depicted Optimus Prime's holographic decoy driver when he's in vehicle mode — it's a dead ringer for Cullen.
- Gentle Giant: As per his anecdotes about how he came up with the voice for Prime on his way to his audition, when he told his brother he was going to be voicing a robot army hero, his brother (who was a veteran of the Vietnam War) advised him to not play a Drill Sergeant Nasty like in movies, it should be a gentle but firm presence, "a real hero." Thus we got Cullen's Optimus Prime, with a deep and echoing voice that is nonetheless warm and wise."I had the pages in front of me, and I'd gone over them, but I hadn't done my voice for him yet. But I just remembered Larry saying 'Peter, if you're gonna be a hero, be a real hero. Be strong enough to be gentle.' And I just took that softness into the microphone, and I...*voice deepens* "My name is Optimus Prime." *voice goes back to normal* And then I read."
- I Am Not Spock: He knows very well that, while he has done many other voices throughout his career, he will be remembered primarily as the voice of Optimus Prime. Though he is quite happy with that epitaph.
- Serious Business: Because he associates the voice of Prime so closely with his (now deceased) elder brother, and because he knows what an icon the character is to children around the world, Cullen takes the role very seriously.
- When Robot Chicken asked if he'd be willing to voice Prime for a parody of Transformers where Prime is dying of cancer, Cullen refused because he didn't want to do that to the character, and Adult Swim was understanding.
- On the live-action films, when the writing for Prime has strayed from what he believes the character should be (particularly with criticisms that Prime sometimes seems too violent), he has not hesitated to be vocal about it to Michael Bay and/or the press and fanbase.
- During the recordings for Prime, until he got the scripts for those episodes, Cullen wasn't notified that Prime's Heroic Sacrifice in the third season would turn out to be a Disney Death. He became depressed over the thought of kids going through the same trauma as when Prime died in the Generation 1 film.
- Before the Bumblebee movie called in Cullen to voice Prime, they had Jon Bailey do Prime's lines as placeholders. Because Prime had already been animated to match Bailey's readings by the time Cullen came in to record the final lines, he was asked to imitate Bailey's imitation of him, and Cullen was unhappy both with Bailey's take on Prime and his own in having to match Bailey's.
- Cullen has been very vocal about Netflix's Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy and their decision to recast the characters with non-union talent. He not only was crushed about not even being approached to reprise his role, but felt the decision set a bad precedent that risked undermining the actor's union.