Q&A: Shooting the breeze with Megatron
GameSpot chats with Frank Welker, the voice of Megatron in the original animated series and upcoming Transformers game and movie.
Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader, the Road Runner had Wile E. Coyote, and Optimus Prime had Megatron. As the leader of the evil Decepticons, the Transformers' Megatron embodied everything a good villain needs: ruthlessness, power, and, of course, his unforgettable voice.
The man behind Megatron's screeching and bellows is voice actor Frank Welker, who today was--along with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime--announced as lending his voice to the upcoming Transformers: The Game from Activision. GameSpot had a chance to talk to Welker about the role and his start in the animated series.
GameSpot: What do you remember about getting into the whole Transformers thing in the first place? Was it just another job for you?
Frank Welker: Well, actually, it was. I had never heard of Transformers or the franchise or anything until I actually went in to interview for the show. The voice-over actors were called in on a general meeting and looked at the photographs of the characters. And that was the first time I saw them. There was a whole bunch on the table, and there was a sign that said, "Pick three."
So I thought, "I'm going to really push the envelope here." And I picked about seven or more and [the director] was cool with that. There weren't a whole lot of people waiting, so I ended up reading for just about everything I could get my hands on and ended up getting a lot of them, and it was great fun. But I mean I really had never been exposed to Transformers at all until that very moment.
GS: How did you end up with so many bad guys?
FW: Since I've always been doing dads and dogs and nice guys like Freddie from Scooby Doo, who is a very straight character very close to my own voice, whenever I have an opportunity to do something that's a little different, I kind of go for it. And I really liked the looks of some of the characters.
[It was] an absolute blast trying to come up with a unique sound for [Megatron] and then keeping all the guys separate--making different bad guys. So I was just like a kid in a candy store, and I think that's the way most actors feel, especially voice actors that kind of get a little bit typecast.
GS: Did the producers give you pretty free rein to shape those voices the way you wanted?
FW: Actually they did. In this instance, there were so many characters and not a lot of time...so they were kind of anxious to get going and there wasn't a whole lot of piddling around. Like a lot of times you go in and the directors piddle with you, "Try that more as a Frank Fontaine and a Jack Nicholson rolled into one and yet you're a dwarf," or whatever.
But in this instance they pretty much let us do what we wanted to do, and then if they liked it, they recorded. And then they just approved them from there. So really it was not a lot of interference, which is really nice because your instincts are there and they were kind of going with what you chose to do. You just look at the photograph then do it. I think that they picked a lot of the unusual sounding voices because of what the characters were. And Megatron being the leader of the Decepticons, the voice seemed to work really well with that. So I was very pleased.
GS: Did you think it was going to be so popular?
FW: No...it's amazing. And I know Peter [Cullen, voice of Optimus Prime] and I have both talked about this. I mean we looked at each other one time. We just shook our heads. We could not believe it [got so big] and had no idea because for some reason we never got fan mail. And I talked to Peter about it and he said the same thing. He never got any fan mail. I never got any fan mail. And I guess wherever that went or anything that had to do with the show went back to the toy people or the studio or whatever. But anyhow it never got down to us.
The only way that we really could tell that we had any kind of success or following was by being picked up for another season. So really we had no idea other than just going to work and guys saying, "Hey, you're working again next week."
Then somebody contacted me about one of the Bot Cons or one of those shows, and I had never heard of those before. And I called Peter and I say, "Hey, would you like to go and do one of these?" And he said, "Yeah, but why would they want us there?" And I said, "I don't know."
We were both really in the dark, and then he ended up going and I couldn't go. I remember he was very upset with me because here he was there and we thought it'd be kind of fun to go together and read some copy and just fool around. So he hasn't forgiven me for that yet. [laughs] Actually he has.
So really we had no idea, and I'm very, very, very surprised and pleasantly surprised that there is a big fan base, and now being on the Internet, I can see that there's a lot of people out there and a lot of sites and it's really cool.
GS: You're best known in the Transformers world just for playing Megatron, but you played all those other characters too. Who was your favorite one? Megatron?
FW: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Megatron was so much fun first of all because of the voice that came to me and trying to throw in different elements that would make it sound unusual and have a little bit of pain and to keep the evil quality and still be able to make a sound that would be different than what any other actors were doing. And that was my goal. What can I do that looks like this picture that has that evil and scratchiness?
I started playing with the voice and started getting a little bit of this. [In Megatron's voice] Maybe it sounds almost like there's four or five people talking at the same time. And it kind of has a scratchy quality. But you can get evil with it if you need to. You can get powerful or you can become very, very sinister.
It was a gas to do, and I thought they loved the voice and I knew that it was the kind of voice that maybe some people don't like, but some people do. My quote is, "If that voice was in the room, you know it's in the room."
GS: Absolutely! I was doing my best to keep a straight face just now, but my mind is officially blown. That was excellent.
FW: But yeah, it was really a lot of fun to do that character. And then playing against Peter and everything, we had a lot of fun with it.
GS: So how did you get involved with the game? There's this whole new resurgence of the franchise here.
FW: Well, Activision came to me and said they were doing the game and, "Would you be interested in it?" So we started working together, and they laid down the lines and showed me the game. It was just so cool to have an opportunity to revive the character again and to play it full-out in this game because the game is awesome. There's just so much to do and so many different modes and things, that it really gave Megatron a whole new life. And it gave me a whole other chance to do it all over again in a setting that is just so perfect because you got these little short bursts of things to do.
GS: So what did you think of those new character designs when you saw them, and did that have any effect on the way that you did your work for the game?
FW: Actually what I tried to do is just do exactly what I did in the [Generation One] stuff. And I tried to make it as close to Megatron as possible.
GS: Would you mind giving us just a real quick tease of the kind of work of yours that we might hear on the game?
FW: Sure. What is nice is that it's very similar to what we did in the original stuff and keeping with that. [As Megatron] "Pathetic. Imagine you thinking you could defeat me. Pathetic!"
One thing I liked is the ranges. I played him just maniacal and then some just right in the middle and then some very low. You don't have an opportunity to do a whole lot in the television series because we were pretty much a "go" the whole time. It was always like, [Loudly as Megatron] "Bring them over here!" [More subdued] Well this time I have some opportunities to be a little more subtle.
GS: Thanks for talking with us.
GameSpot also talked with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime.