Interview: Alan Cumming follows in Brandon Lee’s footsteps in “My Old School” – LATF USA | Region & Cash

Storytelling is not an easy thing. In fact, it’s quite complex. Imagine you are telling a story about a true story that you were originally involved in, which was actually all a lie made up by someone else telling their own story which was false. Wrap your head around it.

filmmakers Jono McLeod found himself at the center of this narrative labyrinth. With scattered jigsaw pieces laid out in front of him, he slowly put them together to create the documentary.my old school.”

The trick of Brandon Lee was breaking news across Britain and the world. In 1993, 16-year-old Lee enrolled at Bearsden Academy, a secondary school in an affluent suburb of Glasgow, Scotland. Over time, he became somewhat “popular” with the teachers and his classmates. He played in the school musical and introduced his buddies to hot new bands. The only thing was… Lee was already attending Bearsden Academy… in the 1970’s. Eventually his true identity was revealed and it shocked the masses.

The documentary My Old School unveils the amazing true story through the eyes of Lee’s classmates, including McLeod, who is directing the film.

Alan Cumming as Brandon Lee in My Old School

The famous and incomparable actor follows in Lee’s footsteps Alan Cumming. Cumming was originally slated to star in and direct a feature film about Lee’s time at Bearsden Academy. When the project didn’t go ahead and Lee refused to pose in front of the camera for McLeod’s documentary, it made perfect sense for Cumming to portray Lee and lip-synch his actual interviews.

The film weaves interviews with Lee’s classmates in the present and animated flashback scenes featuring cartoon characters. The animation style was brilliantly inspired by MTV’s 1990s high school icon “Daria.” With a lot of heart and nostalgia, McLeod successfully shares the memories of students and teachers while showcasing the talents of Alan Cumming.

I sat down with Jono McLeod and Alan Cumming to talk about this breathtaking story, the making of the documentary, and the Brandon Lee mystery.

Interview:

Pamela Price / LATF USA: I took a fun ride and watched this documentary. Happy birthday to you both. I know it’s been a journey. It’s quite an incredible true story. I experienced many different emotions. I was actually quite touched towards the end of it. Jono, as someone whose foundation is in journalism, and you were a classmate of Brandon’s; How did your investigation come about? I know the article existed, but how did it unravel and were you as shocked as everyone else when you discovered all these different facts about Brandon’s journey?

Jono McLeod: Yes. There was a big gap from the story breaking back in 1995 to this film. I think when I first started making the film, the very first person I interviewed was Brandon himself. And indeed, I realized that our understanding of this story was so influenced by the fact that the only person she told me all these years… Brandon was. You know, he published several memoirs, he did the chat rounds and gave newspaper interviews and stuff. And everything that we understood in general was somehow fed from it. But actually the process of getting my class back together and saying, well, wait a minute, actually, what do you remember? I realized that “Surprise, Surprise” wasn’t the most trustworthy of Brandon’s versions of events. I’m so easily fooled. I could be fooled again today, just like I was back in 1993.

Pamela Price / LATF USA: Alan, you’re following in Brandon’s footsteps; a man who is constantly looking for validation. What was it like following in Brandon’s footsteps. And how was the lip syncing? How do you approach a role like that?

Alan Cumming: It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. The only person I’ve ever lip-synced to was myself, you know, in movies and things you have to do, sometimes like when you’re singing you have to lip-synch. So it was really difficult because I’ve never played a character where I didn’t control all the elements. And in a funny way, you know, an element is dictated like that. It meant you had to do everything else somehow, go over it somehow and fuse it together. So it was kind of fascinating, but also terrifying.

Because there was no precedent or anyone else to talk to. For example: “How do you dub a real person in a documentary?” And also I had such a strong connection to – This is a big story in Scotland. In the early 90’s when that happened and a few years after it actually happened I wanted to make a film that would actually be mentioned in My Old School… I wanted to direct and be in a movie that played Brandon. A drama 25 years ago. So. Jono asking me to do this was not only a huge challenge technically, but it was my return to a character. I should have played My version of the film fell apart, but I went back to something I wanted to do a quarter of a century ago.

So it was an amazing experience for the way things come back to you. I’m really happy because I think this film is a much better version of what I would have done. It’s more correct from the point of view of the people who were there. And it’s about how memory changes so much. And you can all have the same experience, but your versions of it in terms of your memory and how your memory changes as a result can be incredibly different.

Pamela Price / LATF USA: Have you ever had the chance to meet Brandon?

Alan Cumming: No I haven’t. I mean, I think the time for that would have been 25 years ago – and I probably would have continued it (Alan’s film) but I didn’t because I was in New York and it wasn’t possible. But this time, no, I didn’t meet him. You know, he didn’t want to be in the film, so I don’t think he would be that keen on meeting the person who actually plays him.

Pamela Price / LATF USA: How was the shooting process in terms of lip syncing? Did you film Alan speaking and then insert the voice?

Jono McLeod: That would have been a challenge for Alan. (Laugh)

Alan Cumming: Yes, exactly?! (Laugh)

Jono McLeod: The actual genesis of the film was that Brandon agreed to an interview. So his line in the sand was, “I’m ready to be interviewed. I’m ready to tell my story.” He’s always been willing to tell his story in a variety of ways, but to this day he just didn’t want to be seen on camera, for whatever reason. We can all speculate as to what that might be. So I knew that would be the starting point, that I would have this audio. Now I look back now and I’m like, “Why didn’t I just make a thriving podcast?” That would have been a lot easier. I would have finished four years ago. But I knew there would have been successful lip-synching gigs in the past. But what I was trying to do was hang a whole movie around one actor’s performance. But in a movie about going back in time and rekindling your past self, who better to step in than the man who’s been cast to play Brandon all those years.

Pamela Price / LATF USA: I’d love to hear your opinions on the creative process. The animated storytelling, in between, and then the actual classmates’ characters themselves. Alan, were you able to sit down with the classmates and talk to them about their stories before they did their interviews? And Jono, talk about the animation process and the creation of these characters.

Alan Cumming: I only met the classmates at the party in Glasgow. The film premiered at Sundance, but then it was at the Glasgow Film Festival and there was a party afterwards. I met them all there and it was amazing because over the last few years I’ve seen them in different cuts of the film and then actually meeting them all and seeing them all interact with each other; It was like being back in high school again. It was the same little groups and there was this kind of bully going around buying people drinks and apologizing. It was really incredible.

That was the first time. But I felt like I knew her when I actually met her, but I had never met her before.

Pamela Price / LATF USA: You followed in someone else’s footsteps at the high school reunion.

Alan Cumming: Yes. The whole thing was bizarre.

my old school, documentary, alan cumming, jono mcleod

Pamela Price / LATF USA: I bet. And tell me about the animation Jono.

Jono McLeod: Yes, it’s a really talented Scottish animation company called Wild Child. I basically came to the realization that I was making a movie set in the ’90s about this guy with a monotonous North American accent, big curly hair, and glasses who walked into my classroom in the ’90s.

He was a male version of Daria. The animation icon of the nineties. So we really wanted to nod to her. That was a starting point for us, but we took our cues from other animations from that era. And our film also dives further back in time. And we looked at things like the Archie Show and Scooby Doo and stuff like that. I knew the story was quite complicated and I wanted a really easy way for the audience to follow what was happening. And as it turned out, animation was the perfect way to do it.

Pamela Price / LATF USA: Often when there is a documentary. sometimes that goes to Netflix or whatever, and then it becomes a movie. So Alan, do you think this will seek a next step, or do you think this is the proper storytelling note to end with?

Alan Cumming: I think that’s that… I mean, the older I get, the more I enjoy documentaries. When I get on a plane, I immediately click on the documentary section. I don’t know, maybe because my job is to do re-enactments, dramatic re-enactments of things. I’m just much more interested in real life and people experiencing things; tell their version of this story. That’s much more interesting for me as a viewer. Like I said, I don’t always watch a lot of the stuff I’m in – I probably would watch this – because I actually like stories told by the people they happen to. Maybe this will continue. Maybe in 25 years it will be caught up by a young filmmaker. “Hey, I’m doing Brandon’s life story.” (Laughter).

Pamela Price / LATF USA: You’ll come back and play him in a different form, who knows?!

Alan Cumming: You’re going to be angry, Jono. (Laugh)


Magnolia Pictures will release My Old School on Friday, July 22, 2022. The film will open in theaters on July 29, 2022.

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