'I thought the voice was him': Alan Cumming takes on unusual role as 30-year-old schoolboy

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Alan Cumming and Lulu at the Glasgow Film Festival (Picture by Colin Mearns)
Alan Cumming and Lulu at the Glasgow Film Festival (Picture by Colin Mearns)

ACTOR Alan Cumming’s “masterful” lip-sync performance in a new film about an adult man who conned his way back to the classroom even deceived co-star Lulu upon her first watch.

The Tony-award winning Scot takes on the role of Brian MacKinnon in a new documentary My Old School which premiered for European audiences at the Glasgow Film Festival last night.

At the age of 30, Mr MacKinnon decided on a second chance and enrolled into Bearsden Academy near Glasgow, while posing as Canadian teenager Brandon Lee, 15 years after first graduating.

The documentary is the first film to take on the story which captivated Scots when the truth of Lee’s identity finally emerged in 1995. It retells the story of how he fooled fellow pupils and teachers for two years to get another shot at medical school.

Cumming mimes an audio interview with Mr MacKinnon throughout the film so convincingly even singer Lulu who voices a teacher in the film did not realise it was not him speaking.

Speaking to The Herald, Lulu said: “I thought the voice was Alan. I thought he had a cold. It was a real mastery.”

Cumming explained that each part of the interview was put on a loop with regular beep noises keeping the tempo.

“It was kind of torturous for the crew. People left the room,” he said.

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HeraldScotland: Lulu at the Glasgow Film Festival (Picture by Colin Mearns)
HeraldScotland: Lulu at the Glasgow Film Festival (Picture by Colin Mearns)

Lulu at the Glasgow Film Festival (Picture by Colin Mearns)

The 57-year-old actor explained that the interview shaped his performance: “It was partly the look of him – the look we went for – but also his voice is kind of immobile.

“The character of him was so dictated by the voice and normally you do that as an actor.”

Director Jono McLeod compared it to “watching an Olympic performance”.

He said: “I have never seen anyone do anything like that.”

Mr McLeod has a personal connection with the documentary having gone to Bearsden Academy with the 30-year-old pupil.

The truth about Mr MacKinnon only emerged when he tried to enrol at Dundee University to study medicine.

He had previously failed at his first attempt as a medical student at Glasgow University prompting his decision to try again.

The director of the documentary believes he may not have gotten away with it for so long at another school.

He said: “I look at it as a divide between Bearsden and maybe the town surrounding it.

“I do wonder if Brandon had rocked up at Clydebank High, which was the school I was meant to go to, whether the kids there would have maybe been a bit more bullish about finding out more about Brandon than us ‘polite’ Bearsden educated kids.”

HeraldScotland: Jono McLeod and classmate Nicola Walker
HeraldScotland: Jono McLeod and classmate Nicola Walker

Jono McLeod and classmate Nicola Walker

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Being from Clydebank, he believes it gave him a unique perspective on the events which unfolded at Bearsden Academy.

“I didn’t have that connection to all the Bearsden kids that they all had,” Mr McLeod said.

“They were hanging out in the evening and socialising in that way. Now, 25 years later, it has kind of stood me in good stead because I am an outside observer in the documentary but at the same time I was there.”

He is not the only member of the crew to have a previous connection to the film with Cumming previously agreeing to a feature film about the events.

The star added: “I think it is really interesting when things or people come back into your life, and you think this could be better. This is how it is meant to be.”

Cumming also believes My Old School makes for a “much better film” about Mr McKinnon.

“I just love the fact that this was told by the people who were actually there.

“It’s about what they feel about it now. They’re looking back at it. It throws up many more questions about the legacy of it. I think it is much more interesting.”

Lulu, who also sings the title song in the film, saw it as an opportunity to play a Scottish role in a film.

“I am a part-time actress obviously because I am a singer, a musician. I’ve never really played a Scottish person – I have got to be able to do that. I am 73. It is time,” she said.

The musician provides a voice for one of the teachers, with many characters being portrayed through animation.

Lulu added: “The fact that this is a true story is probably one of the most fascinating things about it.”

One of the central themes to the film according to its director was the “privilege to go to Bearsden”.

He added: “Certainly, this film taps into the idea that some of us were gifted chances in life that others weren’t. When someone tries to achieve or at least tries to get those chances that other people have why shouldn’t they be able to do that.”

Meanwhile, Cumming saw Mr McKinnon’s second go at life as being a specifically a “Scottish thing”.

“We encourage giving another go, having another bash. That’s what he was doing,” he added.

“There is also the dual thing that Scots think of ourselves as being very canny and that we know a scammer, but we were duped.”

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