May 132016
 

Aberdeen Voice has been talking to young Scottish Actor Declan Michael Laird since AV began. We’ve charted his progress from River City to The Stella Adler Academy of Acting through to commercials, castings, forthcoming TV series (watch this space). Today we’re talking to him about a charity – more of a movement really – that is helping thousands of homeless people across the world.

The centre of the action this year will be Glasgow. Declan talks with Suzanne Kelly.

Declan Laird 12Declan’s just come from a commercial casting call; we’ll see how it goes. I can’t say what it’s for, but I will say he’s worth it. There never seem to be as many good news stories as there are bad, and talking to a young talented man who remains down to earth despite growing fame makes a pleasant change. To be talking to him about a worthwhile cause he’s giving his time to is a genuine pleasure.

Aside from his acting career which is really taking off (more on that soon), he is about to make a documentary which he’ll produce.

We talk football first, as we’ve done in the past. Where else to start than the fairy-tale ending to this year’s Premiership and Leicester? He’s full of enthusiasm.

DM – “Oh my god, oh my god, it was insane. It is so inspiring – it’s so great. It just shows the power of self-belief. If you had told those guys they’d win at the start of the season, they wouldn’t have believed you. What were those guys at the start of the season 5,000 to one or something?

“I read the letter ‘we do not dream’ by Claudio Ranieri where he talks about the boards saying to him at the start of the season ‘this is a huge season for us; we must stay in the premier league; we must score’ – what mad management skills that must have taken to keep the players motivated and to keep them from not losing the belief we can do this.”

I suggest that if you’re really hungry for something like winning the Premiership, then it’s probably easier to fight than if you’re comfortably earning £50,000 a week.

DM – “The likelihood is that they will not defend the title, but those guys will forever have that story to tell their kids and grandkids.”

I tell Laird it reaffirmed my faith that it doesn’t always have to be about who has the bigger chequebook – me and several million other people.

Declan sent me the Homeless world cup video – it is incredible.

DM – “It’s a documentary I’m producing called ‘Playing for Change’. It’s been my project for the last two and a half years. There are three things I’m very passionate about – acting and entertainment is one; the second thing is football, and the third thing is that I’m a great mental health and homelessness advocate.

“I’m a great believer that we should not be stigmatising people with addiction and mental health problems; instead we should be asking why they are not being helped. We should not be criminalising these people, but helping them get out of their addiction so they never have to become homeless. There is a big stigma – if people meet homeless people living on the street, they think they are better than them. 

homeless pic 2“The homeless are there through no fault of their own: they have to deal with issues that no one helps them with or they’ve been too ashamed to ask for help with.

“There are two sides of this mental health problem. It’s not spoken about enough because it’s not a scar on the outside you can see like an injury – if it’s inside and people can’t see it, and people don’t want to talk about it. In US people do talk about it – but they just throw medication at people.

“Talking about it in conversation can really help.”

I find myself wishing more people my age felt like Declan does. In my experience the homeless come from abusive family lives and have nowhere to go. They can be people who lost their money and homes after break ups.

They can be ex-service people who received absolutely no support or counselling on their return to the UK. They can be refugees fleeing brutal governments, bombing, and starvation. They can be people with existing physical and mental health problems: in my experience whatever has led to them being on the street either exacerbates or creates emotional and mental health problems – all of which should be wholly avoidable in any kind of compassionate, decent society.

Then Laird says something that for me hits a crucial nail on the head:

DM – “The younger generation are talking about it, but there is still a shame associated with depression or anxiety they don’t want to come forward about it because they think it is a sign of weakness. I personally feel it is a sign of strength – because you’re maybe just more sensitive. 

“A lot of actors, musicians, artists end up with maybe addiction or mental health problems and the public goes ‘oh it’s just another actor who’s died of an addiction or overdose’ and I think it’s because they are more sensitive – worse, people around them are not always interested in helping them.

“For the last year and a half because of my passion I go down to the homeless shelters maybe about once a month. I also do drama therapy at institutions and mental health clinics to promote mental health. We deal with people with schizophrenia and conditions like that and drama therapy and acting classes help.

“It’s amazing Suzanne – as an example there’s a guy with Tourette’s – normally he’s shouting and bawling, then apologizing, then shouting and apologizing some more. But when you give him a scene to do, he’s imagining himself to be someone else and his Tourette’s just disappears. It’s astonishing. It’s an outlet for whatever they’re feeling inside. 

“Through acting they can express their issues in scenes; if they feel angry, they can act out that anger; if they feel fear, they can act out their fear.”

We talk about the therapeutic values of art, music and drama for people with these issues. Declan continues:

DM – “I met Street Soccer Scotland’s David Duke who runs Street Soccer Scotland and I got involved. David’s story was that 10 years ago he was 23, and homeless in Glasgow. In a Bellshill hostel he saw a flyer ‘Represent your country in the Homeless World Cup’ and he responded. This initiative was started by a guy named Mel Young, the founder of The Big Issue. 

“David went to the trials  – which were at the time pretty makeshift – it was the first year and they didn’t really know what they were doing. He managed to get through the local trials (they were just guys then but there is a women’s team now too) and his team managed to get to Edinburgh.

“David was made captain of the team and got his side to Copenhagen and they won. When they came back, it really inspired him and he decided to change his life – he had an epiphany and decided he could really change his life. If he could have that epiphany, then why couldn’t other people? So he started the charity Street Soccer Scotland.

“David’s basically devoted every single day to going around Scotland and the whole UK getting people off the streets and getting their confidence back through football. They get the jobs and housing — but only if they are putting in the hours of volunteer work for the charity first.

“I started meeting the players, spending time with them, having lunch with David – and with refugees. He works with a lot of refugees, but also 10 years on they have many women too. They mentor Street Soccer USA, Street Soccer England, India, Sweden. Sir Alex Ferguson is one of their ambassadors.

“So whenever I travel back, I make a point of going to meet them, and when I was back at Christmas, my brother Stefan and I – Stefan’s a coach from Aberdeen FC – we took a training session for the team and we took them to lunch – to Tony Macaroni’s that was on the 23rd December. We sat and spent the day, and just had a good time.

“David told me “Declan – the Homeless World Cup’s going to be in Glasgow this year and I’m going to manage the team”. I was like ‘oh wow what a great idea for a documentary’; not just for me but to bring to life your organisation and get you the plaudits you deserve and to bring the homeless world cup to light.”

We talked for a while longer – He’s talking to a few potential outlets for this project, and the resulting documentary will undoubtedly shine a light on an initiative that will continue to help – no, actually to SAVE lives. I will save details of this and Declan’s acting career developments for a future interview.

The Homeless World Cup Tournament will start the first week in July. Volunteering and support would be welcome; further details here http://www.streetsoccerscotland.org/news/2015/04/team-scotland-announcement/

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Sep 042015
 

Action thriller, Hitman: Agent 47 is a tad more intelligent than its non-direct 2007 predecessor, but isn’t as entertaining. Aberdeen Voice’s Andrew Watson takes a look at this computer game-based reboot.

HitmanThere were maybe a dozen people at Cineworld at the Queens Links during the Monday afternoon showing, which was probably not bad given the overall profile of the film.
Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware) is searching the globe for her father. In the process she finds out that she’s a product of bioengineering, along with Agent 47 (Rupert Friend), who turns out to be her brother.

Whilst the latter is a stealthy killing machine, she’s a ‘90’ and thus more advanced than he is. She has extra sensory awareness and can perceive things outside the scope of mere mortals.

The bad guys want to take over the aforementioned bioengineering program for their own ends, which in turn is a threat to the world as we know it.

There are a few nice twists here and there, mostly concerning the dubious role of Agent 47 as purely protagonist or antagonist. Sometimes it seems more like a spy film in the vein of the James Bond series than a more straight ahead action film.

However, there is enough intrigue, plus interesting science fictional aspects that consider the nature versus nurture debate, to keep the viewer reasonably engaged.

Go for the guns and explosions, trying your utmost not to analyse it too much and you might leave the screening happy.

Aug 072015
 

Sports drama Southpaw has had some rave reviews, particularly for Jake Gyllenhaal’s depiction of a down on his luck boxer.  Aberdeen Voice’s Andrew Watson cast his eye over this recent offering.

vuepicThere were maybe a dozen people at Vue on Shiprow for the Thursday night showing, which you could suppose is okay for the night time viewing of a film having already been out almost for a week.
The basics of the story are that Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is top of the pile as light heavyweight champion of the world.

He’s come a long way from the kid brought up in an orphanage, like his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), in the notorious neighbourhood of Hell’s Kitchen.

They both attend a charity event particular to their upbringing, and he makes a candid if not particularly confident speech regarding his childhood and the good work the system did in its bid to make a positive impact upon his life.

After this a contender for Billy’s belt harasses him, goading with explicit remarks about Maureen. This descends into a scrap. The two are pulled off eachother, but not before his wife is accidentally shot during the skirmish by one of the challenger’s entourage.

This was a little bit evocative of Rocky III, to be honest. The mouthy challenger, the champion losing a loved one after a fracas; though in this case a wife, instead of trainer.

The comparisons to that series don’t end there, neither.

Billy’s subsequent fall from grace following Maureen’s death is akin to the money problems Rocky Balboa encounters at the beginning of Rocky V. Both end up moving from spacious mansions back to their old unpretentious stomping grounds, the places where they made it and made it from.

Even generally speaking Hope’s fighting style is one of sheer determination, persevering through punch after punch with minimal blocking and an inhuman granite chin. Sound like anyone?

During this time Billy loses the championship to an unremarkable fighter, who is then beaten by the said Colombian Clubber Lang.

Not only that, Hope lashes out at the referee and finds himself suspended from boxing. This is where the aforementioned money problems kick in, his income drying up.

His descent into drink and drugs mean the social services take away all that’s left for him to care about, his daughter. This begins a long process to get sober, resume boxing and regain eventual custody.

Trainer Titus Wills (Forest Whitaker) moulds Billy into a more defensive fighter, like when Apollo Creed takes Balboa back to the drawing room, fighting wise, again as said, in Rocky III.

Ultimately, come fight night, Hope learns not to be goaded, like was at the charity event; winning with a cool head, instead of losing all with a hot one.

As an aside, Rachel McAdams was slightly perplexing. Upon first inspection she looks like Laura Vandervoort of V remake fame. However, when she starred in About Time two years ago, onscreen she was more akin to a younger, fresh faced Hilary Swank.

You would be forgiven for thinking she was some sort of reptilian shape shifter, akin to her character in that very sci-fi series from 2009. Strange stuff.

Moving on, in all honesty the film was a bit sickly at first. The happy clappy family life came to a welcome end and the real hardship and heartbreak made for better dramatic viewing.

It did seem a bit ‘boxing movie cliché aplenty’ at times, but there was enough grit in it to not glorify the sport as some sort of cakewalk that some similar films unintentionally make it.

May 252015
 

One of Scotland’s fastest-rising young stars in Hollywood is actor Declan Michael Laird. Awarded a fully-funded place at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting based on his performance at a workshop, he’s been busy ever since. Now it seems he’s set his sights on more than acting. Declan talks to Suzanne Kelly.

DeclanLairdpic (1)At age 21 most of us didn’t have a clue what we wanted to do for our career.

Childhood dreams of being a ballet dancer, cowboy or an astronaut were being swapped for aspirations of a more practical kind. For those who wanted careers in sports, arts or entertainment; well-meaning family, friends and school advisors were probably trying to talk them out of it.

‘Too much competition,’ ‘No reliable prospects,’ ‘No money to be made for most people in that field’ would be some of the sensible persuasions used to veer young people towards surer, more conservative jobs.

Luckily for Declan, his family stood by his dreams. Initially he sought a career in football, and was doing well until an injury brought his pro career to an abrupt end. 

His second career choice? Acting. And his family stood by him again.

A mixture of support, perseverance and lashings of talent got him roles in River City, short films, and a prestigious scholarship to the legendary Stella Adler Academy of Acting in LA.

If luck plays a part in his meteoric rise, it is the kind of luck that comes from working hard, networking, and trying new things. With offers coming in faster and faster, you might think that sticking to acting alone would be Laird’s game plan; it isn’t.

Declan and I find a chance to speak for half an hour; he’s on his way from one appointment to the next. I’ve done a little advance homework, and am pleased for him when I see that at the ripe age of 21, he’s got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s always keen to talk about what he’s doing, but tonight he’s even more so; his voice is just that bit more excited; he’s speaking just that bit faster.

What do you discuss first with a Scotsman living abroad?  The weather, of course.  I bemoan the unpredictable time we’re having weather wise and the end of April snows we briefly had.

How’s the weather in LA?

“California’s been in a drought; but now something like a year and a half’s worth of water fell in a day.  All the roads are flooded.  When it rains here, it’s as if people have never seen it before.  It’s carnage; it’s like a futurist film.”

What are you up to right now?

“Right now I’m driving to Stella Adler for two reasons.  One – I’ve got work coming up in July, so I am brushing up and making sure I’m in class and all the mechanisms are well oiled.  But also two –  my photo has been put up on the Stella Adler walls.  They put up pictures of alumni such as Mark Ruffalo, Salma Hayek and Robert De Niro and now I’m up there as well.  I’ve got a huge smile on my face. “

Laird does sound like he’s smiling and on the verge of happy laughter; he continues:

“I remember coming here three and a half years ago and looking at the wall and hoping someday my face would be there.  The Head of School John Jack called last week and told me to bring up a head shot.

“I’m in a class right now called Character Class; the idea is to push yourself to new limits.  They assign you something completely different than what you would usually be cast as.  I’m playing in Homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner. I am a 35 year-old heroin addict in Afghanistan. I can grow a decent beard but it’s funny; last night my mum texted me and asked what I was doing. I replied ‘researching heroin’. She thought I was talking about heroines – she didn’t get it.”

Laird’s got a lot on his mind; it’s coming out.

“I’ll launch into what’s going on. I booked a pilot which films in the Nassau in the Bahamas. I go out on 30 July, and the production company manning that are Stone Village. The executive producer Scott Steindorff and he’s a pretty big deal.   He was producer of the television show ‘Las Vegas’; he did ‘Lincoln Lawyer’; he’s a pretty big deal.

“I’m a series regular.  It is on location at a new Bahamas resort – the biggest and most expensive resort in the world.  It’s not open yet; it opens this summer.  It is a casino hotel.  The story is to do with the employees, the ins and outs and things that go on good and bad.   The actor playing the head of the resort is a guy called Rick Fox.  He’s an actor now but is a LA Laker’s Hall of Famer and a sports pundit.”

After pausing for breath Declan seems to be thinking aloud when he muses:

“How the hell am I managing to be paid to go to the Bahamas?”

Have you got anything else in the works?

DeclanLairdpic (2)I ask, even though I can tell he’s bursting to tell me more news.

I’m aware that Laird is also a brand ambassador in the US for Scottish brands ‘Kennett Timepieces’ and ‘Dumore Scotland’.

To me this seems like a lot of juggling for a 21 year old fledgling actor; but there has never been any hint of stress or pressure in our conversations or correspondence.

“When I come back I have three other projects, so it’s all on the go.  There’s a short film ‘What Happens at Night’ and the director is Gordon Maniskas.  Basically I play a new vampire that hasn’t made its first prey.  They want to do the festival circuit ; he’s a great director.  There’s such a huge built in market with it; people love it.  I like the ‘Twilight’ movies, but never got the huge appeal.  But if people like it, I can go with it –  I can go around biting people.”

I can hear the amusement in his voice at the idea of being a vampire; I’m sure he’ll make a far more complex, frightening and alluring one than some of the recent teen vampire actors have managed.

“I’m signed on for a movie, ‘The Rectory’ a horror about Harry Price, who was the first well-known paranormal investigator. It’s looking for the last bit of funding, and looks likely to shoot in January next year but seems like a million miles away. This summer hopefully there’s another movie I’ve booked. 

“The script is in pre-production; it’s called ‘Isolation’ and that’s going to be directed by Peter Foldy, who is Canadian. ‘Isolation’ is a psychological thriller aimed at late teens.  Sean, my character is a nasty piece of work. It seems to be the kind of role I fall into. Sean looks clean-cut but is maybe, well a bit of a dick. This month filming the ‘Kali the King’ – a supporting role.

“It’s amazing out here the saying is ‘work creates work’ and I never knew what that meant. But the guy from the Chevy film [Laird had a Chevrolet commercial] called my agent and offered me the part.

“I think it really makes a difference- if you show up on time, are polite and punctual, they want to work with you in the future. Kali the King is a movie about an ex sort of drug cartel leader in east LA trying to go clean; I upset him by accident and it may or may not cost me my life.

“On the other side of things I’m really broadening out. I’m working with Dylan Russell, a big film producer; I play on his footie team on Sundays sometimes. I am learning about producing and writing, and I’m in writing classes right now. I really enjoy it.  I’ve a few things on the go – producing and writing a very dark medical-based drama set in east LA doing with Dakota Lupo; he’s very successful.”

We discuss how working on one kind of creative endeavour can bring new, previously unsuspected insight and depth to other areas of work.

“It informs what you’re doing – I think you really have to be smart about it; it’s no use to dedicating time to writing if it takes time away from acting, but there are so many channels – Yahoo!, Netflix, etc., it may be easier to sell things.  But you really have to be passionate and I’m passionate.  I’m not writing roles for myself;  if I love the story I go with it.”

I intend asking what he thinks of the recent events back home from the SNP landslide to Celtic’s season – but I sense he’s not done yet discussing his projects.  And he’s definitely not.

“This summer I’ve just got optioned the life rights to the true story of one particular gentleman who was in a Budapest WW2 concentration camp. I am going to go to Budapest this August to do some research and Melbourne later this year to meet with him.  We’ll try to adopt his story into a movie, and I have a few different producers working with me on this.

“I’m doing that in August because I’ll be back then after the Bahamas.  I’m also doing a thing at the Edinburgh Film Festival.  The literary death match is very popular in the US.  Three writers write short stories and three actors go up and perform the stories or speak, and have three judges who decide which story / delivery was best.  The Edinburgh Film Festival got in touch and asked me to be a judge.

I am producing that short film with Dakota Lupo which will film across Scotland in Glasgow and Aberdeen and then Paris.  We will be casting for that when we’re here.  It will be fun to cast and be on that side of things.  It’s a comedy short; about 12 minutes but we’ll do it across Scotland and day’s filming in Paris.  That’s called ‘The Wake Up’.

“My plan is to come to Europe for 3 weeks between Budapest and whatnot and filming ‘The Wake Up’ and get casting, and hopefully spending 4-5 days at home to do nothing.  So from now until the end of the year it’s kind of mad.  It’s good. I’m getting joy in my classes.”

Home for Declan is with his family, just outside of Glasgow. I don’t see Laird getting either bored or jaded any time in the next few decades. The calibre and diversity of the projects is enviable, and will undoubtedly add considerable further strings to his bow.

Tell me please how Camp Abercorn is coming along? This is a web-based, crowd-funded series based loosely on scouting, and has had support of thousands of people – including George Takei.

“I think it’s wrapped for now; to be honest I’ve not heard much recently. I think they’re shopping it around. Up fronts are when all the pilots get sold to the networks. From what I saw the producers are still to sell it to a network. You just never know. If I get a nice phone call one day, then that’s great.”

I am conscious that time is marching on, and he’ll be at his alma mater soon, but I get a chance to ask what plays he’s reading, what films he’s seen.

“I’ve seen Mad Max’ – I’m very lucky that I’m in the BAFTA Newcomer Programme and get to go to screenings for free which is nice. ‘Mad Max’ was last night and it was absurdly fantastic. It was non-stop action start to finish; truly crazy; it was so fast moving it was almost as if I needed to have a rest after it.”

The film stars Tom Hardy; I know Declan’s about to talk about him. Laird’s previously mentioned Hardy with great admiration.

Tom Hardy – if someone had to ask me who I’d base my career on, I’d say him. I feel stupid saying this because he’s a huge star; but I’ve followed him for a while now, and now he’s popular everywhere. It’s like when you hear a song first and knew it was going to be massive, but you were one of the first to have heard it.”

Declan’s feeling about Hardy – which he admits is a kind of childish/possessive ‘I was the first to discover this’ feeling is wholly understandable. When you’ve found someone and were struck by their talent before the rest of the world recognised it, you do feel a bit proud, a bit possessive, a bit like you don’t want to be seen as just someone who got on the bandwagon late.

Truth be told, within a year tops it’s exactly, precisely how I am going to feel about having been introduced to Declan Laird so early in his career.

I can’t wait for our next conversation to see what he’s up to next.

Keep up to date with Declan on twitter.

Jun 202014
 

‘Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!
Let us do or die!’

These lines from Scots Wha Hae by Robert Burns sum up the Battle of Bannockburn and gives the title to Quids In Theatre Company’s new production, Do or Die, which tells the story of the lead up to the most famous battle in Scotland’s history; Bannockburn. With thanks to Annie Begg.

DoOrDieQuidsIn

Last minute rehearsals for Do or Die : 700 years since Bannockburn which takes place from Sunday 22nd until Tuesday 24th June at St Nicholas Kirk.

As we celebrate 700 years since the victory that gave Scotland her independence from England, Quids In look at some of the events of the Wars of Independence through the eyes of the citizens of Aberdeen in this, the second of their local history series of events.

Last October, sell out audiences promenaded through the city centre, cowered in graveyards, shuddered in tower rooms as they enjoyed the promenade production ‘Suffer the Witch’, the story of the 1597 Aberdeen Witch trials. Now it is the turn of the Wars of Independence.

Production manager of the company, Annie Begg commented:

“Choosing the right venue for the piece was very important.  We wanted somewhere where the audience could feel that they were part of history. St Nicholas Kirk in Union Street was the perfect choice as it was one of the few buildings still standing which would have been here then. 

“The foundations of the church date back to the 12th century so there would have been a church on this spot in 1306 when the citizens of Aberdeen are thought to have helped storm the castle in the name of Robert the Bruce. We also  particularly liked having the opportunity to perform the play on the actual anniversary of the battle.

“Our Community drama shows, give anyone who is interested the opportunity to take part in a theatre production based on the history of their local community. This is the second of six planned productions which will culminate in a festival of community theatre and local history in 2017.”

Tickets for the production are free but should be reserved through the Quids In website.

Do or Die – Quids In Theatre Company
Sunday 22nd – Tuesday 24th June, 7.30pm
Kirk of St Nicholas, Union Street, Aberdeen.

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Apr 112014
 

whisky kisses duncan harley edWhisky Kisses – A musical Glenigma which has matured nicely. Reviewed by Duncan Harley.

When the Scottish musical comedy Whisky Kisses came to Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree in 2010 it shone out as a production full of humour, energy and in the end some romance.
Described as a musical Glenigma and a battle for the bottle it came across to the Aberdonian audiences as a thoroughly enjoyable and truly Scottish musical starring amongst others Masashi Fujimoto of Mr Banzai fame.

The creators – Euan Martin, Dave Smith and Edinburgh based composer James Bryce all have a strong artistic connection with the Granite City and many Aberdonians were hard pressed to find a ticket for the first run.

Now chosen by those who know best in Scottish Arts such as Sir Cameron McIntosh’s Highland Quest, Whisky Kisses has been selected as the flagship show in Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Summer Season for 2014.

Whisky Kisses is a hilarious musical show about a rare and ancient single malt whisky called The Glenigma and only one bottle of the golden nectar remains in the entire world.

The bidding race is on to decide who in the world will own it. A battle for the 100 year old bottle set in a beautiful remote highland distillery is on course. What could possibly go right?

Featuring Ben’s gay secretary Jeff plus Duncan and Lachie the two loyal distillery workers and a Mr Yomo of Japan the production is an absolute hoot from start to finish.

As with all Rightlines Productions however, there is a deeper message which in the case of Whisky Kisses is the question of how to live with heritage, how to share it, and how to enjoy it; while also knowing when to let it go, and to stop living in the past.

With hits such as “The Accidental Death of an Accordionist” and “Watching Bluebottles” the Rightlines team are on a winning ticket with this new production of “Whisky Kisses” and four years on from the original run, Whisky Kisses – like all good malts – has matured nicely.

Tickets are available from the box office at boxoffice@PitlochryFestivalTheatre.com and the 40 night run starts on May 23rd 2014.

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Feb 272014
 

Suzanne Kelly catches up with Hollywood Hopeful, Declan Michael Laird

declan from facebook feb 14

Young Scottish actor Declan Michael Laird swapped his ‘River City‘ role and his football career for Hollywood when the prestigious Stella Adler School offered him a full scholarship.

A year on from his last interview with Aberdeen Voice, Declan gets us up to speed.

Shortly after doing this interview, Laird landed a part in a commercial for the World Cup 2014 Coca Cola official promotional commercial /music video.

It’s 10th February 2014, and the phone rings; Declan’s checking in from LA. He’s a bit breathless

“I’m just back from boxing; I joined a club to do something different. I can barely move the next day.” he explains. Breath caught, he sounds upbeat and enthusiastic.

What have you been doing since we last spoke, which I think was a year ago?

“Last year I did two plays – ‘The Rimer of Eldritch,’ which is about a small town in Bible belt American and a rape happens, and there’s a murder trial. Half the stage is the courtroom; half is the town. Various people testify and there are flashbacks to the event. My character, Robert is the lead; is comforting the girl the whole way through – and then the twist in the tale is Robert did it and gets away with it.”

“It was very heavy. My parents came to see it which was nice – I didn’t know they were coming.”

Declan’s parents still live outside of Glasgow; his father works in Aberdeen. ‘The Rimers of Eldritch’ is a play by Lanford Wilson; Wilson also wrote ‘Burn This’ which I remember seeing on Broadway with a very young, relatively unknown John Malkovich many years ago. Perhaps Wilson’s ‘Rimers’ will prove a valuable and fortunate vehicle for Laird as the other Wilson play proved to be for Malkovich.

“There was ‘Life of Christ’ – a comedy. Nate Edelman who got two aviation awards (which is Oscar related) director gave me the part – he didn’t even need to audition me. The play is a modern, funny way to look at some bible stories – not disrespectfully – it’s light hearted; it got a lot of laughs. It was meant to be on for one week but it was so in demand and over-booked that we ran for another 3 weeks 9 of 12 sold out. It got great reviews in Backstage and LA weekly. It’s important for me to get good reviews at this stage. It was great that the profits were for a children’s charity and the homeless.”

“I did these two shows back to back; it really kept me busy.”

A police car siren’s gone off; I can hear it very clearly over the phone.

Declan and his mum

“The police are so intimidating. Every time I see a police car, I feel guilty.” LA isn’t all stars and high fashion; the reality is that it can be a very dangerous place, something that many would be actors and actresses don’t realise when they up stakes and hope to make it big.

I’m aware of a few of his other projects this past year. There have been some TV pilots (though we can’t really get into details before they come out), and some other work. ‘Lost Angels‘ is a musical dealing with the world of the reality television singer contest, and then there is the award-wining short film, The Lost Purse, recently added to YouTube.

Tell me about ‘Lost Angels‘ – what’s it about and what role do you have?

“It had its premier around November – it should be on Netflix in April if I remember rightly, just before my birthday. It’s so weird when you do a project and act in it and a year and a half later, and then you forget what you did. The first screening or premier is weird – so when I went, I had all these doubts in my head, but thankfully it went well. I had five scenes in it, I’m looking forward to it.”

“Then there is the ‘Lost Purse’ – it had been doing festival rounds – the director got in touch with me – it’s up on line now – a lot of people were asking for the full thing. That was more challenging than people thought because it’s difficult not to speak – although I’m a nice guy I go for a lot of not nice parts.”

Declan manages to carry the story and convey the action without uttering a single word.

What’s going on right now?

“Right now it’s pilot season. The other day my manager sent 15 scripts – all about 55 or more pages – and demanded I read them all by Friday. I told him what I wanted and I have my first big pilot audition tomorrow. Fingers crossed. You get typecast, and you start noticing who goes for the same parts as you’re going for, but in pilot season you find out that a lot of them have come in from out of town; fly in for a couple of months and it gets even more competitive. In the boot I have 4 changes of clothes, headshots and resumes. You might have to go for different roles with little time in between to prepare.”

With roles from nice guys to stereotypical bad boys such as his ‘River City’ persona; the rapist and the deaf mute, it seems the dangerous pitfall of being typecast is not something he’ll have to worry about any time soon.

Knowing how Laird loves the beautiful game, and was playing with the Hollywood All-stars last year, it’s time to talk football.

“I’m still playing, and the Hollywood All-stars starts up this month. Vinnie Jones has been struggling with cancer, but we got an email saying it would start at the end of February. I hope he’ll be there; I think he will. In the off season we have a five a side – we won 19-9 not bad for our season opener.”

“I’ll also be playing in Celtic Park in May – it’s Football Aid – the charity which runs these games to raise funds for diabetes and youth. It will be a dream for me to play at Celtic Park – to walk through the tunnel – I’m scared. It’s a long time since I played 90 minutes – they may want to keep me on the whole time; we’ll see. Mind you, I support Celtic and most of my family support Rangers – it will kill my dad to see me running around in a Celtic kit.”

The Clutha Bar helicopter crash was a subject I wanted to bring up gently, knowing that Declan’s friends and family aren’t a million miles away from there.

“I was on the treadmill listening to my iPod, and I looked up at the TV and saw it. I didn’t even twig for a minute – I thought there must be one in the USA. Then I realise it’s in Glasgow and I just stopped what I was doing. I know people that go there, that drink there – it’s awful. It was one of those Scottish things where everyone rallies together.”

 Have you been back to Scotland lately?

“It’s a very small world – I’m sitting in Heathrow flying home for Christmas. The flight to Glasgow is delayed. Sitting next to me is a guy with long hair. I was flying back to surprise my family; I needed to borrow his phone as I didn’t have a UK compatible phone on me. When I give him his phone back I realise it’s Robert Carlyle. I’m a great believer in things that are meant to happen. So I’m thinking how to talk to him without being … so I said ‘I was nearly working with you once’. He said ‘oh really’ and I said ‘I auditioned for once upon a time for the part of Rufio’. We got talking, and then I told him about the scholarship. I said that I used to play for green; his wife said she was from there – on the plane I was next to him. We’ll meet up for a coffee soon.”

“When I got home finally, my brother wrapped me up for Christmas and put me under the tree.”

It’s clear to me that Laird misses his family and friends, but at the same time he’s hardly without a few countrymen around him in Hollywood.

“The number of Scottish people you discover over here – I had a great lunch with Andrew Pierce last week who writes the Iron Man and Mission Impossible films – he’s from Kirkcaldy. They’re all so willing to help and I’m always trying to learn from them.”

On the subject of learning, I’m told:

“I have 12 pages to learn for tomorrow.”

And there we decide to leave it for now, and as I hang up, I’m nearly as excited and enthused about his future adventures as he is himself.

Keep up to date with Declan on:

Oct 282013
 

Vue on Shiprow was an apt setting for viewing Tom Hank’s seafaring thriller Captain Phillips, writes Andrew Watson.

vuepicAlthough this is a tad more intelligent than recent fellow claustrocore film Escape Plan, it didn’t entertain to the extent that the combined brawn of Stallone and Schwarzenegger did.

Captain Phillips is based on a true story, or at least on the written account of a man taken hostage by Somalian pirates.

What should be borne in mind with such accounts is that embellishments to known facts don’t illuminate actual events.

It’s more shocking, for example, to know for a fact that three people really died in an incident than that six perish in a fictionalised account.

I daresay that Mel Gibson’s Braveheart would have benefitted hugely from a massive dose of truth given the factual historical inaccuracies in that film.

Anyway, Richard Phillips (Hanks) is the merchant sea captain of MV Maersk Alabama which runs into difficulty when being pursued by opportunistic ransom seekers during a routine exercise that turns into a real life threat.

On the other side of the story, it’s interesting to see that the Somalian pirates originate from a community bullied by warlords to whom they owe money, a somewhat sympathetic perspective offering a rationale for their seeking ransom money from merchant vessels.

The efforts of the pirates eventually see them board the Maersk Alabama, via a mobile ladder clasped to the side of a ship that dwarfs their own vessel.

What follows is a glorified cat and mouse chase, as Hanks’s character sends his crew down to the engine room in a bid to avoid capture. They eventually overcome the boarders who are forced into retreat, taking just the captain with them on the emergency lifeboat.

Basically, the film is divided between the single setting on the Maersk and on the lifeboat, the compactness of the latter, of course, defining claustrocore filming.

Towards the end, a protracted stand-off between the pirates and the US Navy SEALs, climaxes when the SEALs eventually outmanoeuvre and outwit the boarders who number fewer than half a dozen.

To sum up, Captain Phillips is at times frustratingly dull, yet at others engaging.

 

Oct 242013
 

Vue on Shiprow was almost vacant as I sat down this afternoon to watch Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s Escape Plan. Andrew Watson reviews.

vuepicI was a bit dubious about this example of situation genre, popularly dubbed ‘claustrocore’, where most or all of the film is shot in the one setting. Think Phone Booth.

There was enough variety in this action thriller, however, to assuage negative assumption.

Ray Breslin (Stallone) is the movie’s protagonist and co-owner of a firm testing the infallibility of maximum security prisons. Rapper 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson), makes a glorified cameo appearance as Ray’s business partner Hush.

Breslin successfully escapes one of many prisons he’s testing without a hitch.  A more lucrative offer comes in, and although the stakes are far higher than usual, both sides deal in.

Once on the inside, Ray meets fellow inmate, Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger).  Favours between the two are drawn as Stallone’s character scopes out the nooks and crannies of his toughest challenge yet.

Their contrasting roles, with stonefaced and serious Sly and amiable Arnie, ensure that the onscreen chemistry bubbles.  They bounce off each other quite well, and the film is almost totally devoid of any big-time ego clashes.

The pair are pitted against jail warden Willard Hobbs (Jim Caviezel), and his second-in-command played by ex-football hard man, Vinnie Jones.

Standing, or rather hiding, between good and bad is Dr Emil Kyrie (Sam Neill).  Paid to oversee the wellbeing of the prisoners, with his employers bent on doing the opposite, he cuts a perplexing insight into the psyche of a beleaguered conscience. It’s a pity the role is so minimal for such a fine actor.

Among the highlights is a punch -up between the two megastars, before they’re rounded up and thrown into isolation.

Stallone, the smaller of the two, takes a while to overcome Arnie, who initially laughs off the the assualt.

Schwarzenegger’s feigning Christian babble is hilarious, as the subtitles translate his almost-incoherent German cries.  All part of the ruse, whilst Stallone plots an escape route.

The nailbiting conclusion has you wondering if both will survive, but no spoilers from me.

On the whole, not the most earth-shattering piece of cinema you’re likely to see this year, especially, in terms of script complexity, as its overall simplicity is definitely the most prominent feature.

Aug 232013
 

Dogstar Theatre’s new production, The Baroness,  starring Roberta Taylor and directed by Matthew Zajac, is opening on Stornoway at the end of the month. As part of the Scottish tour the production will be performing at Alford, Findhorn and Gordonstoun School. With thanks to Liz Smith.

Roberta Taylor as Karen Blixen in The Baroness.

Roberta Taylor as Karen Blixen in The Baroness.

Dogstar’s autumn production, the UK premiere of The Baroness by Thor Bjorn Krebs, translated by Kim Dambaek, opens at An Lanntair, Stornoway, on Saturday 31 August following a preview on Friday 30 August.

The tour finishes at the Traverse, Edinburgh, on Saturday 28 September.

Roberta Taylor, one of Britain’s most talented actresses plays The
Baroness, and is joined by Ewan Donald as Thorkild Bjørnvig and Romana  Abercromby as Benedicte Jensen.

The play is directed by Dogstar’s Co-Artistic Director Matthew Zajac with music composed by Aidan O’Rourke.

In 1948, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) the celebrated writer of Out of Africa, was 62 when she met the recently married and successful 29 year young poet and writer Thorkild Bjørnvig. The two shared a powerful and intimate friendship, their pact, which lasted 6 years, before falling apart.

The play charts the course of this relationship and also the relationship of a third character, Benedicte Jensen, to Bjornvig and Blixen.  Benedicte was the wife of Bjornvig’s patron and publisher.

The Baroness premiered to rave reviews at the Folketeatret in Copenhagen in 2011 and was nominated as play of the year in the 2012 Danish Theatre Awards. Full of tension and poetry, with three tremendous acting roles, the play is inspired by anecdotes, letters and books by and about both Blixen and Bjørnvig.

Roberta Taylor is best known for her long-running roles in Eastenders and The Bill.  She is also a best-selling author with her memoir, Too Many Mothers having sold over quarter of a million copies.  Roberta was a leading member of Glasgow Citizens Theatre for 20 years under Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald.

Aidan O’Rourke, is one of Scotland’s most exciting composers and musicians and a member of the amazing trio LAU, three times winner of the BBC2 Folk Awards Band of the Year. Recently Ewan Donald toured Scotland with Right Lines’ production of Be Silent or Be Killed.

The production has been designed by Catherine Deverell with lighting design by Kate Bonney. Supported by the Hugh Fraser Foundation www.dogstartheatre.co.uk

Listings Information

An Lanntair, Stornoway
Friday 30 & Saturday 31 August 8.00pm
Box Office 01851 708480 www.lanntair.com
Preview Friday 30 8.00pm

Strathpeffer Pavilion
Tuesday 3 September 8.00pm
Tickets WeGotTickets.com/strathpefferpavilion
TicketWeb.co.uk
June’s Card Shop Dingwall & Pavilion 01947 420124 & 0844 771000
www.strathpefferpavilion.org

Macphail Theatre, Mill Street. Ullapool
Wednesday 4 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01854 613336 www.macphailcentre.co.uk

Lyth Arts Centre
Thursday 5 September 8.00pm
Tickets: 01955 641434 www.lytharts.org.uk

Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute
Saturday 7 September 7.30pm
Doors open 7.00pm
Tickets 01700 503877 www.mountstuart.com

Tower Mill, Heart of Hawick
Tuesday 10 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01450 360688 www.heartofhawick.co.uk 

CatStrand, New Galloway
Wednesday 11 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01644 420374 www.catstrand.com 

The Buccleuch Centre, Langholm
Thursday 12 September 7.30pm
Box Office 013873 81196 www.buccleuchcentre.com

Birnam Arts
Friday 13 September 8.00pm
Box Office 01350 727674 www.birnamarts.com

Tullynessle & Forbes Hall by Alford
Saturday 14 September 7.30pm
Tickets: Alford Bistro 019755 63154 www.tullynessieandforbeshall.co.uk

Resolis Memorial Hall
Tuesday 17 September 8.00pm
Tickets 01381 610204 www.resoliscommunityarts.org.uk

Universal Hall, Findhorn
Wednesday 18 September 7.30pm
Tickets: Phoenix Stores 01309 690110 www.wegotickets.com/UniversalHall

Ogstoun Theatre, Gordonstoun School
Thursday 19 June 8.00pm

Eden Court, Inverness
Friday 20 & Saturday 21 September
Box Office 01463 234234 www.eden-court.co.uk

Druimfin, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Tuesday 24 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01688 302828 www.mulltheatre.com

Craignish Village Hall, Ardfern
Wednesday 25 September 7.30pm
Tickets 01852 500746 www.craignishvillagehall.org.uk

Eastgate Theate, Peebles
Thursday 26 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01721 725777 www.eastgatearts.com

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Friday 27 & Saturday 28 September, 7.30pm
Cambridge Street, Edinburgh EH1 2ED
Box Office 0131 228 1404 www.traverse.co.uk