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Alan Cumming on Lip-Syncing the Canadian Prodigy Who Duped a Scottish Academy in ‘My Old School’

Sundance: Cumming was joined by director Jono McLeod at the IndieWire Studio, presented by Adobe, to discuss one of the strangest documentaries of the festival.

Alan Cumming appears in My Old

Director Jono McLeod’s documentary “My Old School” is a sort of real-life “Strangers with Candy” story of someone who arrives at a high school who… well, definitely doesn’t belong there. The film is based on the true story of Brandon Lee, a seemingly 16-year-old prodigy who enrolled himself at Bearsden Academy in a suburb just outside of Glasgow, Scotland, claiming to have been privately tutored in Canada while traveling with his opera-singer mother.

Brandon’s story stirred up a media sensation in Scotland in the 1990s, but remains relatively unknown in the United States. Because the real-life Brandon did not want to show his face today, his own testimony is re-enacted in lip-sync by actor Alan Cumming, who along with director McLeod and fellow voice cast member Lulu joined the IndieWire Studio, presented by Adobe, at Sundance to talk about their film.

Cumming’s is a challenging performance because he is tasked with acting out Brandon’s wild story word for word, as he wooed his classmates with his genius and charisma but seemed all too preternaturally gifted beyond his years.

“It was and still is a huge story… It just hit a nerve,” Cumming said. “Maybe as Scots we think we’re kind of canny and we can tell when someone’s pulling the wool over our eyes or something, so maybe that’s why it caused so much consternation [in] a cultural way.”

“Alan was involved in an earlier incarnation of telling this story on film that never came to fruition,” McLeod said. “It became known as this great Scottish film that was never made, so to be able to bring it to screen is just unbelievable to me.”

“I lip-synced an entire film! That’s sort of good armor to have in my backpack for an errant drag queen night,” said Cumming, who runs the cabaret bar Club Cumming in the East Village in New York City. “25 years ago, I was going to make this film called ‘Younger Than Springtime.’ I was going to direct it, I was going to be in it, about this story, and it just, like these things do, fell apart. […] It’s the funny and great thing about getting older, that things come back to you in a different and better way.”

“[Brandon] could not be seen on camera. That was a stipulation. He sent me this gauntlet: ‘You can tell my story, but without me appearing on camera,'” McLeod said. “I always had in my head these lip-sync movies like ‘The Arbor,’ so I knew that was always an option. I didn’t know how I would find the right actor to portray that, but in the back of my head I always knew that, back in the day, Alan Cumming was attached to do this movie. And would you believe that Alan is my friend, and can I shame my friend into doing this project? I had no shame. I cornered him into doing this.”

Watch IndieWire’s “My Old School” conversation, moderated by Editor-in-Chief Dana Harris-Bridson, in the video above.

Presenting sponsor Adobe — with a mission to enable creativity for all — is committed to supporting, elevating and amplifying underrepresented creators, so the world can see, learn, and benefit from diverse perspectives. Learn more at Adobe.com Diverse Voices. The upcoming 2022 festival marks the fifth consecutive year IndieWire and Adobe have joined forces for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance.

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