Home Entertainment ‘A damaged person’: Alan Cumming on playing the schoolboy who was actually 30

‘A damaged person’: Alan Cumming on playing the schoolboy who was actually 30

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What most individuals keep in mind about Scotland’s infamous schoolboy impostor Brian MacKinnon is the dimensions of the lie. How did a 30-year-old man, with solely a dodgy accent and a worse perm, reach passing himself off as a 17-year-old high-school pupil in one of the crucial salubrious suburbs of Glasgow, hoaxing lecturers who had already taught him some years earlier than? Furthermore, why would anybody need to?

MacKinnon made sky-high headlines within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, however these questions are re-posed three many years later with curiosity, humour and a few tenderness in My Outdated Faculty. Directed by Jono McLeod, a college up to date of MacKinnon’s (the second time round), the movie items collectively the recollections of former classmates, mates and lecturers, lastly permitting his friends their say on the subterfuge that outlined their coming of age.

Ought to reminiscence require refreshment, the extraordinary deception went so: calling himself Brandon Lee, MacKinnon enrolled at Bearsden Academy in 1993 with the intention of finishing his Highers and making use of to medical college. However Lee wasn’t 17. He was a person of 30 who had already graduated from the identical college a decade earlier, and been thrown off his course at Glasgow College after failing his exams.

He was finally uncovered however not earlier than dazzling his lecturers, internet hosting home events for his new teen friends and taking the lead within the college musical South Pacific, delivering an off key and – in hindsight – bravura efficiency of Youthful Than Springtime. Though he secured the required grades, he was later expelled from his medical course at Dundee College when his double life was uncovered within the media.

As a Glasgow teenager myself again then, I vividly recall the pictures of pupils crowded spherical a lone copy of the Every day Document, on their open faces a mixture of awe, thrill and confusion. There was a doubtful undercurrent to this tallest of tales even then – a grown man in a room filled with youngsters, whose hyper-focused desperation trumped all different propriety – however someway it was overshadowed by the wonderful, bonkers boldness of the episode.

With out ever looking for accountable, My Outdated Faculty untangles a number of the questions that again then most examined credulity: how couldn’t one single trainer have observed one other grownup of their classroom? Why did no person query it when the youngsters within the playground instantly nicknamed the brand new arrival “thirtysomething”? Did his friends settle for he might drive a automotive as a result of the age restrict was 14 in Canada, the place MacKinnon claimed to have lived along with his opera-singing mom earlier than she died in a tragic accident and his professor father returned to stay within the UK?

The documentary options Alan Cumming because the younger pretender. MacKinnon agreed to be interviewed for the mission however not filmed, so McLeod requested the actor, who he knew had a longtime fascination with the story, to lip-sync MacKinnon’s taped phrases – which he does so seamlessly that he swiftly evaporates into the character. The ordinarily puckish Cumming sits stiffly behind a desk within the classroom wearing beige and quietly speaking a lifetime of discomfort in his personal pores and skin.

The real Brian MacKinnon, AKA Brandon Lee, in 1995.
‘Nicknamed thirtysomething’ … the true Brian MacKinnon, AKA Brandon Lee, in 1995. {Photograph}: Picture Scotland/Alamy

“It’s stunning how, in plain sight, folks can get away with essentially the most unimaginable issues,” Cumming informed me once we met in Glasgow. “Folks fake to be various things on a regular basis, however as Scots we consider ourselves as canny. ‘You may’t pull the wool over my eyes.’ So for that to occur right here … that’s why it was such an enormous story and why we’re nonetheless speaking about all of it these years later.”

It’s arduous to not ask Cumming questions as if he gave an easy efficiency, particularly when a lot of this considerate movie revolves across the the reason why MacKinnon was performing himself. “It feels barely disingenuous speaking about this ‘character’ when it’s truly a documentary,” admits Cumming. “I really feel protecting of him. It’s a tragedy too. On the centre of it’s a very broken particular person.”

It’s a mirrored image echoed by McLeod: “It’s arduous to speak about Brian MacKinnon as a result of I don’t know him that nicely. However all of us knew Brandon Lee.” McLeod says that MacKinnon, who was the primary particular person he interviewed for the mission, “is the final word unreliable narrator. My tackle it’s simply that there are some folks in life who’re wired in another way to the remainder of us,” he says with a generosity that everybody talking for the movie extends to MacKinnon. “When he’s explaining to you the the reason why he did it, it makes an odd type of sense.”

The film-making course of was like attempting to piece collectively a jigsaw, he explains. “If you’re coping with this many lies, it’s actually tough to get to the reality. So that is simply as shut as 30 classmates and lecturers can get by coming collectively.”

It’s additionally instantly obvious from watching the movie that it is a story that might solely be informed by McLeod. At one level, a former classmate expresses her amazement that she was so fooled by MacKinnon earlier than she seems to be instantly at McLeod behind the digital camera and shouts throughout to him: “So had been you, ya mug!” The mutual expertise of being duped means the belief between director and topics is palpable, and his probing isn’t supercillious.

A school photo with 30-year-old MacKinnon centre.
Class act … a college picture with 30-year-old MacKinnon, centre. {Photograph}: PA Photos/Alamy

Certainly, whereas the now 59-year-old MacKinnon stays a largely unknowable determine, My Outdated Faculty is way extra in regards to the expertise of Brandon’s friends. It’s a degree that Cumming emphasises: “Think about with the ability to return and focus on one thing that occurred to you at a really formative age, to revisit that collectively as adults. What I discover fascinating is how we are able to all have skilled the identical incident and have very completely different recollections of it.”

It’s fairly pretty to see how protecting the classmates are of each other, and even of MacKinnon (whom all of them nonetheless name Brandon), maybe with the intention to protect the purity of their very own recollections. That is particularly so round a number of the darker threads of the movie. Lee is remembered with especial heat by a black scholar, Stefan, who says the brand new boy defended him towards racist bullies. Alternatively, his South Pacific co-star Val blanches as she realises what his enthusiastic kiss on the finish of the manufacturing seems to be like from the angle of maturity.

That kiss proved a selected problem for McLeod. Whereas issues had been raised on the time of MacKinnon’s publicity, there was not the safeguarding outcry that there can be these days – a reminder of how considerably responses to potential sexual exploitation have modified in a reasonably brief area of time. “All of us collectively felt that, whereas the movie another person would make can be that sinister, darkish take, we didn’t need that,” says McLeod. “However then, after I stumbled on the South Pacific tapes, I realised: ‘Properly, truly I’m going to have to carry this man to account.’ I took my steer from Val. Her tackle what occurred is it makes her really feel a bit icky, and that was so far as she needed to go by way of condemnation.”

MacKinnon in 1995.
MacKinnon in 1995. {Photograph}: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

The movie additionally spotlights the brutality of high-school life. As a homosexual teenager, McLeod’s personal recollections of Bearsden Academy are “hellish”, he says, and he was decided to put the racism Stefan suffered on the collective document. “It was a shock for lots of the classmates who got here to the screening, after which informed me afterwards they’d no concept that was what Stefan’s expertise was. I don’t even know if Brandon helped Stefan all that wittingly, however he completely modified the man’s life for the higher, so it was solely proper that I depict that.”

For McLeod, one of many overriding themes of My Outdated Faculty is privilege: “Bearsden is a city of ambition: folks need to stay there as a result of they need their youngsters to do nicely.” Within the movie, classmates dissect this sharply, differentiating between the luxury homes and “spam valley”, the world for much less well-off households who moved in with the aspiration to ship their kids to the native college. A type of households was MacKinnon’s, and the movie reveals the hefty inter-generational pressures on him to succeed. One other former classmate reviews that MacKinnon can nonetheless be seen on the computer systems in Bearsden library, looking for medical faculties around the globe which may but settle for him.

In a tradition during which the crucial is to comply with one’s dream it doesn’t matter what, when does the relentless pursuit of a purpose find yourself damaging your self or these round you? Cumming picks up this query: “What’s harmful about that message – and I discover it in America significantly – that something will come to you if you’d like it sufficient, when you work arduous sufficient, is that it’s simply not true,” he says. “Inform that to a single mum with 4 youngsters on a council property. You may work as arduous as you’ll be able to, but when your circumstances and the political state of affairs you reside in should not conducive to serving to you then it’s not going to alter.”

My Outdated Faculty is launched on 19 August within the UK. It is usually screening in Australia on 21 August as a part of the Melbourne worldwide movie pageant.

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