Alan Cumming: 'It was worth waiting 25 years to play infamous Scottish schoolboy imposter'

Alan Cumming says he is happy he had to wait a quarter of a century to play an infamous Scottish imposter on screen – as the end result is more “authentic and provocative.”

Alan Cumming portrays former Bearsden Academy pupil Brian MacKinnon in the new drama-documentary My Old School.

The Perthshire-born star of Hollywood and Broadway will portray Brian MacKinnon, who famously duped staff and pupils at Bearsden Academy for two years after enrolling as a 16-year-old when he was 30.

The actor has lip-synched an in-depth interview with MacKinnon, who adopted the false identity of Canadian teenager Brandon Lee, for the drama-documentary My Old School, which has been made by Jono McLeod, a former classmate of MacKinnon.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

In the late 1990s Cumming was attached to a feature film based on the story of Mackinnon, a failed medical student at Glasgow University, who was only exposed after he left Bearsden Academy for a second time, which led to his expulsion from Dundee University’s medical school in 1995.

In an interview with Indiewire on My Old School, which has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States, Cumming said: “It was and still is a huge story. It just hit a nerve in some way.

"Maybe as Scots we think we’re canny and can tell when someone is pulling the wool over our eyes and that’s why it caused so much consternation.

"What’s interesting is that around 25 years ago I was going to direct and be in a film called Younger Than Springtime about this story. It just fell apart, as these things do.

"It was very, very close to the time when it all actually happened. A great thing about getting older is that things come back to you in a different and better way.

Director Jono McLeod has used animation inspired by the MTV high school series 'Daria' to depict Brian MacKinnon's time at Bearsden Academy when he adopted the false personal of Brandon Lee.

"It's a much more authentic version of the story and much more provocative in terms of what it asks of us all: what do we think, what is wrong, what is right, do we trust people and what did he actually do?

“I’m much happier the film I made about Brandon Lee is this film all these years later rather than that one.

"It was a really weird thing to have a voice already there. I’d never done anything like that before. It was fascinating.

“We had each bit of the interview on a loop in the room. I would say them over and over...like a dog learning little tricks. You get better as you get more into someone’s skin and understand how they breathe.”

Alan Cumming portrays former Bearsden Academy pupil Brian Mackinnon in the new drama-documentary My Old School. Picture: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

Asked how he secured MacKinnon’s backing, McLeod said: “I just reached out to him – we had an email exchange and hung out for quite a bit in the run-up to the interview.

“He’s a really fascinating individual, super intelligent, the same he was all those years ago. He still has that focus, drive and determination. He’s a really charismatic and engaging individual.

"He wants people to know his story. I think he hopes that things can change for him if he gets his story out by whatever means he can.

"He had an understanding that I wasn’t going off to tell his story exactly the way he’d told it. He knew I was going off to dig and find other classmates and teachers to try to get a broader sense of what happened. His stipulation was that he wasn’t seen on camera.

“He kind of said to me: ‘If you can tell my story without me appearing on camera, go for it.’

"I always had in my head lip-synch movies and didn’t quite know how I would find the right actor. In the back of my head I knew that back in the day Alan Cumming was attached to the movie."

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.