Peter Cullen is a Canadian voice actor whose voice is behind some of the most widely loved animated characters in film and TV. Cullen is best known for originating the voice of Optimus Prime, the heroic Autobots leader of the Transformers franchise. Cullen voiced the role in the very first Transformer film, The Transformers: The Movie, and has since reprised the role for over three decades and counting.
Cullen’s rich and distinctive voice, combined with his talent for bringing characters to life, has made him one of the most recognizable and respected voice actors in the industry. The actor is showing no signs of slowing as he once again gave voice to Optimus Prime in 2023’s Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, the 7th installment in the Transformers live-action film series. Read on as we explore the remarkable journey and contributions of this talented voice actor with a few facts about his illustrious career.
1. He Was The Class Clown
During his childhood, Peter Cullen discovered a remarkable talent for effortlessly mimicking people, particularly their distinctive ways of speaking. His gift became apparent early on, and even during his middle school years, Cullen found himself frequently imitating the voices of his teachers. However, this mischievous behavior often landed him in trouble, to the extent that he even failed first grade due to his disruptive antics. As he honed his skills, Cullen’s repertoire expanded beyond human voices to include various animal sounds. With the classroom as his stage, he delighted his classmates with a plethora of amusing and hilarious noises, leaving them in fits of laughter.
2. Peter Cullen Is A Member of the First Graduating Class of the National Theatre School of Canada
Following his high school graduation, Cullen pursued his passion for acting by enrolling at the National Theater School of Canada. Throughout his time there, his penchant for impersonations persisted, as he couldn’t resist imitating practically everyone within the school’s halls. In 1963, Cullen became one of the inaugural graduates of the institution, alongside notable actors such as Paul Hecht (Private Parts), Donnelly Rhodes (The Young and the Restless), Diana Leblanc (More Tales of the City), and the late actor Heath Lamberts.
3. He Got His Start Doing Comedies
During the early stages of his career, Peter Cullen found himself in the role of an announcer on popular comedy TV shows like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. As his talent gained recognition, he transitioned to securing radio gigs. One notable opportunity came when he lent his voice to a character in a segment of the CBC radio series called Funny You Should Say That. Cullen also contributed to shows such as The Buddies, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and The Hudson Brothers’ Razzle Dazzle Show.
4. Peter Cullen’s Brother Inspired His Voice For Optimus Prime
Peter Cullen arrived at the audition for the voice of Optimus Prime without a preconceived notion of how to portray the character. The only information he had received was that Optimus Prime was a heroic truck and the leader of the Cybertronians. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Cullen drew inspiration from his brother Larry‘s voice, who happened to be staying with him at the time. Larry Cullent was a former US Marine who had recently returned from the Vietnam War. With a stroke of improvisation, Cullen read his lines in his brother’s voice, to the delight of the director. Three weeks later, Cullen learned that he’d secured the role of Optimus Prime.
5. One of Peter Cullen’s Favorite Characters He’s Lent His Voice To Is Eeyore
Because of its connection with his brother, Optimus Prime is understandably Cullen’s favorite character among the many he’s portrayed. Following closely in second is the character of Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh franchise. Cullen’s fondness for Eeyore stems from the fact that voicing the character was comparatively effortless and less demanding. In essence, his favorite characters are those that offer a sense of ease and reduced stress.
6. He Got Sick After Voicing Three Characters on King Kong
Peter Cullen’s first mainstream voice gig was also his least favorite. Cullen performed the voices of the titular ape and also performed the voices of Mrs. Kong and Baby Kong. The roles were so demanding that Cullen ruptured his vocals and by the end of filming had lost his voice and was coughing up blood.
7. Peter Cullen Was The First Actor To Voice Nintendo’s Mascot Mario, On The Saturday Supercade Series
Long before Chris Pratt became associated with the character Super Mario, Peter Cullen lent his voice to the character. Cullen became the first person to voice the character in Western media. This occurred in the 1983 Donkey Kong segment of the animated TV series The Saturday Supercade Series.