Hot Rod

HOT ROD: The new kid in town who became the saviour of the universe.

TCC: I've noticed that certain actors appeared to have trouble deciding or remembering how exactly they would voice a particular character of theirs from time to time. However, your rendition of Rodimus Prime was always very consistent. Did you have an easy time arriving at and maintaining a suitable voice for him?

GAUTIER: One of my strengths as a nightclub performer and actor was getting lost in a character and staying there. This served me well in the world of VO because that's demanded of us -- however, if we screw up (and we do) that's what a director is for -- to keep us on track and honest and true to the character at all times.

TCC: Incidentally, did you decide on the Rodimus Prime voice before you developed the more brash and youthful voice of Hot Rod?

GAUTIER: Yes. Rodimus came first, then they hit me with Hot Rod and again, my facility with voices (like all the people I work with) didn't make this a stretch.

"I went through it with him five times."

TCC: By the time you came in to play Rodimus Prime, the show was not only already well-established and had been extremely successful, but it had by way of the events portrayed in the movie entered a period of considerable change. A slew of new characters were introduced at what seemed very much like the expense of most of the old protagonists and antagonists. In some ways, it was almost like an entirely new show. For that reason, I take it the producers found it necessary to bring you up to speed on events and continuity. How did they go about doing that?

GAUTIER: They gave me a quick review of the "Bible" of the show and the salient plot points that would affect my performance. Otherwise you get bogged down in minutae, historical detail which only muddies the performance waters. I did get character sketches (we always do, even for auditions) and they ran a couple of segments of the show for me. But most series change and evolve into something else from time to time, it's nothing new in our business. We always feel temporary and replaceable.

TCC: What was it that most attracted you to the show? What was its primary appeal?

GAUTIER: It was merely an interesting, good-paying job and I got to work with a lot of friends and we had a great time. Some days we had such fun that we felt guilty taking the check. But we always did. Trust me.

TCC: Your fellow voice actor Dan Gilvezan told me that, when he started out on the show as it began, it was customary to do an episode a week, in which sessions were exhaustingly lengthy. Was that still the modus operandi of the behind-the-scenes voice work or had it changed any by the time you came in? Also, Dan told me that a voice library was created at some point for all the characters, performing all kinds of sounds, like coughing, laughter, hiccups, and so on. Did you undergo that process, too?

GAUTIER: On occasion, we'd do two a week but never any more. I wasn't aware of this library of every hiccup, etc. It seems to me that if they wanted a hiccup, burp, groan, or whatever, they could just ask us. We were very accommodating when it came to bodily noises.

"Not elegant, but it worked."

Quintesson Scientist

QUINTESSON: Small but fascinating character voice, Gautier's specialty.

TCC: In my opinion, while the animation is important, it is not by any means the be all and end all of a cartoon. To me -- and many others, I'm sure -- the voice is what really makes a character come alive. No matter how shoddily animated an episode might have been, the performances were still true and engaging. And as important as the actors were, the proverbial glue that held it all together would have been Wally Burr, who voice directed the entire series. What was it like to work with him?

GAUTIER: Wally's a good guy, but he's tough and specific and demanding. We'd sometimes do 20 takes until we got a reading the way he wanted it. But ultimately the show was better because he cared so deeply.

TCC: It's been documented that, due to the sheer number of people that would be working on the show at any time, it was rarely possible to have all the actors in the studio at the same time. That's certainly understandable, given the fact that some series installments were simply overflowing with characters, but when you would perform in an episode that featured only a handful of characters, would you say your performance benefitted from the extra space, so to speak?

GAUTIER: I personally prefer working with other actors because often their readings and interpretation that you think you can anticipate will change and thereby influence how you might change yours accordingly. Working in a vacuum is possible but not preferable. When I did the G.I. JOE movie I recorded all of Serpentor in one day -- eight hours of screaming like a bad Shakespearean actor. I was leaving for the Mid-East the next day and had to do it, but I had no voice for a week. My wife loved that!

TCC: As I've stated, Rodimus Prime was a hugely pivotal character in the third season, and he was the center of attention in several episodes. Were those instances more demanding of you as an actor than performing his lines when he served less of a focal function?

GAUTIER: When you have more responsibility I find it easier; there's more continuity. One of the hardest things in our business is to come in for just a couple of lines and make them work.

"Tell me about it."

TCC: By the way, as you may or may not recall, there was an episode, titled ONLY HUMAN, in which Rodimus Prime had the misfortune of being turned into a synthetized human. I don't expect you to remember such a specific event, but is it likely, given the meticulous nature of Wally Burr's direction, that your approach to voicing him as a human rather than a robot would have been a bit different?

GAUTIER: You're right. I don't remember, but then I'm familiar with robotic voices or readings. GET SMART, etc.

TCC: Through talks with your colleagues I've learned that Wally is quite a perfectionist in the studio, and that his calls for take after take can be quite strenuous, perhaps especially when one is required to speak in a very low voice. While Rodimus Prime was not among the most gravelly-voiced characters, did you usually find yourself exhausted vocally at the end of a session, anyway?

GAUTIER: Yeah, I was tired and very hoarse. We called those days "Throat Rippers." Especially if we were doing guttural, super-masculine voices.

Synthoid Rodimus Prime

HUMAN WAYS: Rodimus Prime will not be giving up energon for coffee.

TCC: As we've established, THE TRANSFORMERS was not by far the only animated production you worked on during the mid-to-late 1980s. You were also logging considerable session hours on TV series like the aforementioned G.I. JOE, WILDFIRE, JONNY QUEST, and INHUMANOIDS at roughly the same time -- and also several animated features. One gets the impression you were all constantly running from job to job. How did everything work out in terms of scheduling?

GAUTIER: Going from job to job playing various characters is all part of it. If I couldn't do it, you wouldn't now be interviewing me because I wouldn't have been successful.

TCC: There are a few occurrences in the cartoon of characters being equipped with a new voice for no obvious reason. As an example, Jack Angel was the voice of the anxious Stunticon Breakdown for only one episode, after which Alan Oppenheimer became the character's regular voice. As far as your role as Rodimus Prime goes, it would seem that another actor, whom I have identified as Ted Schwartz, also read for the character. A few of Schwartz's readings were even recorded and actually made it into the series, specifically in one of the summaries for the five-part episode FIVE FACES OF DARKNESS. But ultimately, of course, you got the role and Schwartz was never heard from again on the show. Can you shed any light on what happened there?

GAUTIER: I don't know why. Did I replace him or what? I honestly don't know; that's management's bailiwick.1

1 At this point, I shared with Gautier what little tangible evidence there is of Schwartz's shortlived participation in the series.

GAUTIER: You got me, pal. It's been too long and, in danger of repeating myself (a definite age giveaway), this all preceded my working on the show so other than consulting a seer or clairvoyant -- I'm dead with this one.2

2 Wally Burr later confirmed that he had originally considered Schwartz for the role, but decided instead to cast Gautier because he had more stage presence.

TCC: For most of the post-movie era, you played a heroic character, but you also lent your voice to the brutish and obnoxious Decepticon Headmaster Apeface. Of heroes and villains, which type of character do you most enjoy playing and why?

GAUTIER: Villains and apes and weirdos of all kinds are always more fun because they test your vocal prowess and imagination.

TCC: I imagine that sharing the microphone with voice-over greats like Michael Bell, Don Messick, John Stephenson, and Frank Welker was an experience to remember. Did you learn anything from them that you considered valuable to your growth as a voice actor?

GAUTIER: Yeah. How much fun it could be to do a VO session. Most of these guys were in standup and they're very witty and funny and we had lots of laughs between takes. And God forbid you screw up a take, you are hit with a barrage of funny insults. They're great but merciless.

"As long as he delivers, I don't care about his ego."