Talking with Megatron (Frank Welker)

With Transformers Prime, The Hub has reinstated one of the cartoon world’s fiercest rivalries. No, not Optimus Prime vs. Megatron. That battle has been going on steadily throughout the franchise’s nearly 30-year reign. We’re talking about the men behind the giant robots, Peter Cullen, who voices Autobot leader Prime, and Frank Welker, who provides the signature sinister tones behind Decepticon leader Megatron.

Both have worked on Transformers off and on since the original 1980s cartoon, but the new series — which is finishing up its five-part miniseries premiere “Darkness Rising” this week — is the first time they’ve worked together as these characters in nearly 25 years.

I had the pleasure of speaking with both men about the project. You can see my chat with Cullen here. Welker talked with me about working with Cullen again, what’s different about Megatron this time out, and what Transformers has meant to his long, storied career:

How does it feel to be Megatron again after all these years? And to be working again with Peter Cullen?

It feels great!! However, I have been doing the voice of Megatron for various projects and games so it’s really just a continuing transition.  That being said, doing a series again and with Peter is truly a dream for me. In the aforementioned projects we didn’t get to actually work together we recorded separately so it was not the same. There is definitely something extra special working face to face with my old nemesis and friend. From an acting standpoint we can counter off each other and we feed off each other’s energy. It’s really exciting to match verbal blows, and we know each other’s rhythms. I think that makes for better drama and performance.

Is there much difference in this Megatron and the one you voiced in the original series?

In the earlier Generation 1 series there was so much action, the plots were action-driven, [so] we didn’t really have much time to get into subtlety or the intimacy of a scene. We were too busy attacking or defending against attack. In the Prime series we go much further into the characters and what makes them tick. The voice is the same Megatron, but with the dialog and pacing I have been able to gain some latitude that gives me more room to explore both his head and his vocal range.

The Megatron voice sounds like it would be so difficult to pull off without computer enhancement. Is there much of that involved, and does the voice strain your throat?

It’s not really difficult or hard on the voice unless you are in attack mode for an extended amount of time. In the original series they added a slightly otherworldly quality to the voices that helped separate them from the humans. One thing I tried to do from the beginning was to give Megatron a unique sound to separate him from the other characters, and I especially didn’t want him to have a typical big robot sound. My goal was to have a voice that when listeners heard it they knew instantly, that’s Megatron.

You’ve been involved with the feature films, and Transformers Prime is produced by some of the same people. What’s it like working for them?

I can’t say enough about our producers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. They have been incredible friends to all things Transformers. From the beginning, Mr. O has had a steadfast loyalty to the franchise and has struggled hard to keep the universe right. He is a very talented writer, creator and a smart man who knows the balance. It’s a joy to work with all these folks who demonstrate in action [that] they love what they do.

The original Transformers series is such a touchstone of youth for many people, but you’ve done so much other voice-work beyond that. How special is the Transformers experience to you?

I’ve been very lucky to be part of a few shows that seem to stand the test of time. The fans are incredibly loyal and take pride in passing these shows and characters on to their kids. I have also done many shows over the years that had a season or two then they were gone. It is fortunate and a special honor to be associated with a show like Transformers — a franchise  that has caught the imagination of a generation and beyond.

Photo: Transformers™ and ©Hasbro, Inc. Used under license.