Highlands & Islands

Question time: Edinburgh actress tells of Slumdog role

Scene from Slumdog Millionaire Image copyright AP
Image caption Slumdog Millionaire follows a teenager from the slums of Mumbai

Six years ago, Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars at the Academy Awards. As the ceremony comes around again, Edinburgh-based actress Janet De Vigne looks back on the parts she played in the prize-winning film and her more recent roles in micro-budget horrors.

In Slumdog Millionaire there is a scene set inside a call centre in India.

Dev Patel's character Jamal Malik, a teenager from Mumbai's slums, takes a call from a Mrs MacKintosh from Kingussie.

Jamal tries to convince her that he is in a call centre not far from where she lives in the Scottish Highlands.

De Vigne provided the voice for Mrs MacKintosh. The actress also appears in the film as Ada, a German tourist who hires Jamal as her guide for a tour of the Taj Mahal.

"I'm not sure how Kingussie ended up in the film," said De Vigne.

"It might have been because of the Monarch of the Glen TV series. A lot of the filming for that show was done in and around Kingussie. Maybe that influenced Simon Beaufoy who wrote the script for Slumdog Millionaire?"

De Vigne put her own mark on the script for Slumdog.

Image copyright J Daniel Pacey
Image caption Janet De Vigne in new Scottish feature Baobhan Sith

After reading the part for Mrs MacKintosh she wondered if one of the lines might not ring true with a Scottish audience.

Half fearing she might lose her newly-won roles in the movie, she called the director Danny Boyle to suggest that the line should be changed.

She said: "In the original script I phone the call centre and say to Jamal 'are you all the way up there in the Highlands?'

"But I'm calling from Kingussie - in the Highlands - so the line was changed to 'are you in Highlands?'

"Danny Boyle was absolutely fine with it. He said 'okay, put it in an email to me'."

"The man is a genius," she added. "He is so focused on making a great film. He and the film's cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle were so driven, but driven in a good way."

In 2011, the actress was invited to attend a screening of Slumdog Millionaire in Kingussie as a guest of the village's Food on Film Festival.

She was greeted off the train by dancers in traditional Indian dress. "They were very good, and very brave because it was February and it was cold," said De Vigne.


Scotland's Slumdog "smugglers"

Image copyright Screen Machine

Slumdog Millionaire caused a headache for the UK's only mobile cinema in 2009

Parents were "smuggling" their young children into screenings of the multi-award-winning box office hit, putting the cinema's licence at risk.

Operators of the Screen Machine said they had never known of so many attempts to get under-age children into a film.

They said an 11-year-old tried to get in to see the certificate 15 movie by hiding behind his grandparents.

Slumdog Millionaire features a group of children's fight for survival in the slums of Mumbai and India's version of the quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Its scenes of violence include mutilation.


De Vigne, whose passion for cinema was ignited by David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia when she was 10 or 12, continues to work in film.

She has been cast in three micro-budget features made by Scottish artist and film-maker David Hutchison.

In the chiller Graders, which was made for £4,000, she plays a villain.

Shot in Assynt, Buckie and Edinburgh, the film tells of a woman's search for her sister who has gone missing while working in a remote fish factory in the Highlands.

'Gothic nightclubs'

De Vigne, who is also an opera singer, sings with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in another of Hutchison's films, Rearview Park, and is the main protagonist in the artist's latest venture called Baobhan Sith.

Set in Scotland, Baobhan Sith's plot draws on the real life abduction of South Korean movie director Shin Sang-ok and ex-wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, by North Korea in 1978.

De Vigne said: "David has a really quirky, gothic sense of humour.

"Each of the roles in his films are very different. To play a baddie in Graders was great fun.

"David's films also take me to places I wouldn't normally see - such as hanging out in dark, gothic nightclubs."

Image caption Has Kingussie to thank Monarch of the Glen for its name check in Slumdog Millionaire?
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Slumdog Millionaire's director Danny Boyle is a genius says De Vigne

When not acting or singing, De Vigne publishes books.

They include Luke Paul, a novel on the subject of gay ordination by retired Church of Scotland minister the Very Reverend Dr Finlay Macdonald.

Also, Blackness and the Dreaming Soul by the late Cy Grant, who was one of the RAF's first officers from the West Indies and a trained barrister.

After World War Two he sought work in the legal profession in Britain but was prevented from doing so because of racism.

De Vigne said: "He could not get work as a barrister and instead became an actor and worked with the likes of Laurence Olivier."

Grant's acting career had an interesting twist that could provide a question for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

"He was the model for Lt Green in Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons television series," said De Vigne.

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