Alan Cumming & Jono McLeod Interview: My Old School

Alan Cumming & Jono McLeod Interview: My Old School

Scotland collective experienced a shock when a see-it-to-believe-it news story hit the stratosphere: a 30-year-old man had passed himself off as a high schooler to attend classes once more. My Old School, the new Magnolia Pictures documentary out in theaters on July 22, is an exploration of why Brandon Lee chose that path from one of the people who experienced his deception.

Documentary filmmaker Jono McLeod was one of Brandon’s (whose real name is Brian MacKinnon) classmates back in 1993, and he gathered his old friends and acquaintances to reveal how the news affected them and recount their own version of events. The man himself was interviewed at length by McLeod, but as he declined to be filmed, My Old School ingeniously combines animation for the past with veteran actor Alan Cumming lip syncing to the interview in the present.

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Screen Rant spoke to Cumming and McLeod about how they brought Brandon Lee’s (and Brian MacKinnon’s) story to animated life, and what they would redo if they could go back to high school themselves.

Alan Cumming in My Old School 2

Alan Cumming in My Old School

Screen Rant: When you were putting this documentary together, was that a big reunion for you? What was the experience of going back to your own school and talking with everyone you knew?

Jono McLeod: It was really bizarre, because I was a little bit of an outsider at school. I wasn’t from the town where the film is set, and the town is almost a character in the film itself. I was one of the bused-in kids, so I didn’t have the same social connections to everyone. I was a 16-year-old gay kid, and I was very much keeping my head down; not really connecting with that many people.

I think when 25 years passed, and I was suddenly calling people up and saying, “Hey, remember me? I’m making a movie,” a lot of the answers were, “Who the hell are you?” But enough people remembered me and were willing to take part. We just wanted to all come together and basically tell this story that I think is almost a perfect high school movie, and it happened to us. We just wanted to share it with everyone.

Alan, you were once going to play the role of Brandon AKA Brian, and that did not come together in the end. In a way, you are getting that second chance that he would have liked to have gotten. What was that experience like for you?

Alan Cumming: It’s great, actually. It’s really an interesting thing about getting old; being old enough after a quarter of a century to go back and play a character that you were supposed to play all that time ago. It’s a really amazing thing, and it also makes you feel like an old duffer.

But I didn’t realize how much unfinished and unresolved business I had with him. Because the story is such a huge one in Scotland, I really did want to play him, and I really did like the script. It was so nice to be able to come back and be a part of Jonas’ film, which is much more about the people that it happened to. It’s not really an outsider’s interpretation.

But, of course, what it also deals with is how everyone’s collective memory is very unreliable. Everyone’s got their own sort of recollections, and that’s a big theme of the film as well.

How do you decide what aspects or footage to use of the younger Brandon, given that he had very specific desires on what could be shown?

Jono McLeod: Basically, Brandon had a line in the sand when I first approached him, which was that he was willing to give an interview on the basis that he did not have to appear on camera. It could only be an audio. So, he came into our studios, he recorded in that professional sound studio, and we did a really long interview.

I always had in the back of my head, this movie called The Arbor by a British director called Clio Barnard that really successfully used lip sync throughout with multiple actors. I knew that I was now trying to hang my entire film on the performance of one lip synching actor, so I needed someone who could play a present-day Brandon. And there was no one more perfect than the man who was supposed to play Brandon back in the 1990s., and that was Alan.

It was really nerve-wracking asking Alan to do it, partly because I knew my film hung on him saying yes, and partly because he’s my friend. It was that awkward thing of asking your friend to do your low-budget movie. “Would you mind doing this for sod all money?”

Alan Cumming: I’m actually staying, right now, in Jono’s flat back in Glasgow. These are my wages.

Jono McLeod: Basically, this his pay. He’s allowed to stay there for a certain amount of time, and because he was so successful at the lip sync, that’s why he’s not in a hotel right now.

Speaking of that lip sync, Alan, how much harder or easier was that than you’d anticipated?

Alan Cumming: It was harder, because the only time I’ve ever lip synced is to myself. In films, when you have to sing or something, or when you do ADR and you do lipping on a film, you lip sync yourself.

But, actually, it’s not just about the words. It’s about little movements of your mouth and breaths. And when it’s you, you’re used to that, because you hear yourself all the time. It was actually really difficult, and you’ve got to stop it just being a technical exercise and make it a real person.

I realized that I’m the leading character in the film, and I better get my sh-t together. So, it was a lot. But I do think you just have to dive into these things. You just have to get in the spirit of someone who is most known for being a shapeshifter, and I had to do the same thing.

My Old School is about going back, doing things over, and potentially getting second chances. If you guys had the opportunity to redo something from high school, what would it be?

Alan Cumming: Maybe some bad decisions made in the darkroom of the photography department.

Jono McLeod: It’s something I’ve portrayed in the film, actually, which is the experience of some kids at school in terms of the bullying that went on.

For one of the characters in the film, one of my classmates who experienced bullying, the person who was able to help him through that and connect with him was Brandon – our main man. Of course, the person who came back and knew to help those who were being bullied and also knew how to work the social strata of high school life was the person who had already done it before.

I know that if I went back, I’d be able to do things better. But would I go back? Hell no. It was awful. That’s why we didn’t think it was happening. Because who in their right mind would? It’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare that we all have; that you’re suddenly back in high school. Who on Earth would choose to put themselves in that situation?

Alan Cumming: I think people in America – in Britain as well – talk about the happiest days of their life. A lot of people in America think of their high school days as their peak; they hark back to it a lot. I don’t at all, and I think it’s so fascinating. That was the best time in your life? What’s your life been like?

My Old School Synopsis

My Old School documentary

In 1993, 16-year-old Brandon Lee enrolled at Bearsden Academy, a secondar y school in do suburb of Glasgow, Scotland. What followed over the next two years would become the stuff of legend. Brandon had been privately tutored in Canada while he accompanied his mother, an opera diva, on tour before her tragic death. The preternaturally bright student surprised teachers by blazing toward his goal of entering medical school, displaying a wealth of knowledge beyond his years.

Brandon found friends despite his initial awkwardness, taking bullied students under his wing, introducing classmates to seminal retro bands, and even starring in the school’s production of South Pacific. But then his unbelievable secret was revealed. Filmmaker Jono McLeod returns to his old school for a nostalgic look at the strange but true story of hi s former classmate, Brandon Lee.

More: Scottish Schoolboy’s Secret Makes For Compelling Doc In My Old School

My Old School arrives in theaters on July 22,

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About The Author

Tatiana Hullender
(893 Articles Published)

Tatiana Hullender is a writer at Screen Rant, focusing on film and television, as well as a co-host of several podcasts. In the interviews she conducts for Screen Rant, she seeks to learn what drives each creative mind and how different experiences influence the same narrative. As a graduate of Columbia University in New York City, Tatiana studied theater and comparative literature. She has been passionate about all manner of storytelling since being exposed to Jane Austen and BBC adaptations of her work all at once. But Regency satire of manners isn’t the only genre she loves, as a love of comic books naturally developed into a love of cinematic universes and their superheroes. So long as a story has heart and humor, there’s a chance of finding something to enjoy in the telling of it.
Visit myrcellasear on Twitter to follow Tatiana’s articles, interviews and podcasts including: The Flash Podcast, Pop A La Carte and Ladies With Gumption.

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