Peter Cullen is an illustrious voice actor known for such roles as Eeyore in “Winnie the Pooh” and the otherworldly hunter we know well as the “Predator.” But it is his role in “Transformers” as the wise Swiss Army Knife semi-truck-turned-robot Optimus Prime that has earned Cullen the most attention.
As it turns out, the inspiration for that gravelly voice of calm in the face of certain annihilation is none other than a U.S. Marine Corps veteran — Cullen’s bother Larry.
“When I looked at the breakdown of Optimus Prime in the original show, it was a hero,” Cullen told Gizmodo in a 2008 interview. “My older brother, Larry, was my hero. He had returned from Vietnam. He was with the Marine Corps, and he saw some pretty heavy experience.”
Cullen decided then to infuse the character with a level of gravitas modeled after his brother.
“It was his tone of voice and delivery as a leader, his control that impressed me, and I applied my brother’s attitude to life to Optimus Prime,” he added. “There’s a calmness to Optimus Prime, and yet a gentility and strength and honor and dignity, that are synonymous with the Marines. ... It just rang a bell, and I was cast in that part. I guess people somehow picked up on that.”
Cullen has voiced Optimus Prime since the original “The Transformers” show debuted in 1984. He has since picked up that vocal mantle once again in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” which arrived in theaters on June 9. The premise of the newest installation is a bit of a throwback to the 1990s, wherein the Autobots are set to face off against the world-destroying Maximals.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.