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:

Mar 212013

The Paul Lawrie Foundation and David Lloyd Leisure are the latest organisations to assist teenage tennis star Bruce Strachan in his bid to forge a full time career as a professional player.

With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

Bruce Strachan, the 18 year old Aberdonian tennis player who trains full time at Stirling University, has received financial support from the Paul Lawrie Foundation which also donated auction items for a recent fundraising dinner, hosted by David Lloyd Aberdeen, which raised over £7,000.

David Lloyd Leisure has also granted Bruce use of the facilities at all of its leisure complexes throughout the United Kingdom while, in the north east, various individuals and organisations have assisted to help him with equipment, training, subsistence and tournament entry fees.

Bruce, who has been the North East Open men’s singles champion for the past two years, is currently in the middle of a hectic competition schedule featuring AEGON British tour and ITF Futures events, with a couple of events on mainland Europe planned for later in the spring.

Feb 282013

Declan Michael Laird has gone from the outskirts of Glasgow to Hollywood, via River City.  Since Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly last spoke with him, things have been happening.

This year’s Oscars might be over and done with, but Laird’s career is just starting.

Declan’s in a car heading to a friend’s house when I get him on the phone. It’s been 8 months since we last spoke, during which he’s been busy.

“I’m just coming from an audition. It was for a pilot for a network on CW. I think it went well.  It’s pilot season just now; all the new series are being made.  I get scripts and then just give it my best”

It is pilot season; studios are testing out new actors to be in new shows.  Some will never make it to the screen at all; some will be given a test run, and the lucky shows will be televised.  CW network has come up with some long-running shows, some of which exceed the usual seven season maximum, including Supernatural, a cult classic with a huge following, and conventions.

It’s a warm sunny afternoon in California; it’s after ten at night in Aberdeen, and considerably colder.  Still Declan mentions that there’s a bit of a chill in the Hollywood air.

“I should be ashamed of myself for saying how cold it was.”

I agree with him, and rather undiplomatically I bring up the fortunes of his club, Celtic, which lost 3-0 to Juventus.

“It wasn’t a good week.  I watched it with another Scottish friend.”

I ask if he’s still playing in the Allstars, a team captained by Vinnie Jones.

“My football season starts next week, it stopped for the winter. I’m centre mid-field or right back.” 

He jokes that he’s ‘a lot younger’ than some of his team mates.  Laird spent most of his childhood pursuing a career in football before the acting bug bit.  A show reel of some of his work can be found here:-

This includes work from RiverCity, and the short film ‘The Lost Purse’ which won a number of awards.

He and I were to have spoken when he came home to Scotland recently.  The glamour of Tinsel Town can’t compete with home.

“It was so nice to be back and see family again and have a bit of normality.  When you’re here (LA) everything is geared around the industry – acting, movies, scripts… It was nice to be home and have my mum call me ‘eejit’”.

So – what work exactly is going on for him?  I asked about the pilot that he was rumoured to have filmed.

“I can’t say much, but I can say the director is Guy Norman Bee.  He directed ER, Criminal Minds, Revolution and Arrow.   I taped in mid December   – it was great to get that and have a pilot under my belt.  The head of my school [The Stella Adler] can’t believe I got a pilot after having my 01 visa for four months.  I used my American accent which I’ve worked really hard on.  I can jump between the two accents now.  I have to go in and do my voiceover.  In this pilot the main character is my brother.  I’ll know in early June if it will air”

There is a trend at present for established actors to favour television roles over films.  Dennis Quaid,  for instance, is in the new series Vegas.  I wonder whether Declan’s got any preferences.

“Right now in my career anything that gives me a platform would be great.  But the way people might be looking at it, a movie is two hours; a show can go on for many seasons; and a character can develop over the course of time.  You can be on it [a series] for years and put your own stamp on it.”

How are things at the Stella Adler School?

“When I got my work visa, I still had a year of my course left.  The head of my school said ‘you’ve got a year left, your visa is for three years; drop from the full-time school and go part time.’  So I’m in class and not getting rusty and am going on auditions.  When I got the pilot they said, ‘we thought you’d get work’, and this justifies it.   I’m on their website with all these great, great actors, which is amazing.”

“My visa is for entertainment. It was good getting it because I don’t think many people my age get it.  To get the visa I got lots of support from Milton Justice, Mark Ruffalo  [AKA The Incredible Hulk from the Avengers], Ross King, Vinnie Jones: they were pretty great.” 

He’s not the only Scot around.

“Funny story. I was in Stella Adler and the lady in the office said there’s some Scottish group in doing a workshop. I think they left a few minutes later, I think that must be them.  I see this guy walk past, and it was one of my old school teachers! We both just looked at each other. He’d looked me up on Google, and he had me come into Hutcheson Grammar in Glasgow, and I did a talk to the school and later the drama department.  We talked about how I got into acting.   I think I managed to convince a few of them that moving out here was a great choice.”

“I’m very lucky that I have parents that support me; a lot of people don’t have that.   I think my mom will visit. Both our birthdays are at the start of April.”

“My best friend out here is from Aberdeen. I was getting my hair cut and suddenly this boy comes in; I hear Scottish and we determined he was from Aberdeen, and I was in Glasgow.  There’s a shared sense of humour, not everyone here gets sarcasm.”

“We do a lot of theatre. If you can do theatre, you can walk onto a television set because you’re never under more pressure than when you walk out onto a stage and have hundreds of eyes on you.  We do Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams. When you read a Nickelodeon script it’s not the same.  With TV it’s often about a certain look, there’s so much about looks and rejection.  Theatre is much less of a beauty pageant.”

Laird’s car journey and our interview time are over.  I wonder where he’s heading now.

“I’m going to the gym, working on some school work and then maybe relax at a buddy’s with a movie or some Xbox.”

At 19 years old, Declan is in a very unusual, exciting situation. It bodes well that he’d prefer the gym and some relaxing over wild partying and ‘sleb-filled clubs.  He knows he has a lot of studying and work to do, and he’s staying level-headed and appreciative of his luck and those who have helped him.

“I’d like to thank John Jack Rodgers, the Head of the school – he’s so understanding about auditions and trying to get work while studying and getting the most out of you.”

Not that he needs it, but I wish him well.

  • Keep up to date with Declan on twitter at @DMLactor
Dec 062012

Aberdeen City Youth Council’s Safe Sex campaign, which aims to investigate and improve condom provision in schools, has won the support of two Aberdeen MSPs.

Barry Black, Council Chair and Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Aberdeen Central is leading the campaign and believes this drive for better contraception availability will reduce rates of STDs and teenage pregnancies.
The Youth Council has been inspired by the C-Card scheme in Edinburgh which aims to give young people over the age of thirteen free access to contraception.

Richard Baker, NE Regional MSP said:

It is important that young people are able to make the right choices about practising safe sex. Schools have an important part to play in informing young people on these choices and I congratulate Aberdeen’s Scottish Youth Parliament Members for their campaign to raise awareness on this important issue. It is crucial because of the potential impact on young people’s lives and health.”

Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart agreed:

Safe sex should always be encouraged and we need to ensure, as a society, we are consistent in that message.”

Mr Black commented:

It is widely recognised that some young people under 16 are unable to get access to condoms, even though they are sexually active. Restricting condom availability to ‘underagers’ does not stop them having sex, it just makes it dangerous. People of every age are ‘at it’, regardless of whether or not you think it is appropriate, and all need to at least have access to contraception.

It’s great to have our MSPs on board supporting our case at a national level. In Aberdeen we are going to get to the heart of the problem, investigating how young people can get access to condoms easier, and then pressuring the Council and other bodies to implement recommendations we will draw.

We have had a really positive response from the administration, after they changed education travel policy following pressure from the group, and we are already in positive talks with councillors on how we can move forward with this campaign.”

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Oct 112012

The vice chair of Aberdeen City Youth Council (ACYC), the official voice of young people in Aberdeen, has condemned city centre clubs where underage drinking has allegedly taken place and is to write to local politicians encouraging discussion over current age limit policies.  With thanks to Kenneth Watt.

The Pearl Lounge and other premises in Aberdeen city centre have had their licences suspended this week due to allegations of underage drinking.

Commenting that these recent cases of underage drinking in city centre premises show why youngsters need to be better educated on responsible drinking Struan King (pictured), who was appointed vice-chair of ACYC last month, said:

“Underage drinking is a serious issue, and the legal drinking age is there for a reason.  We need to look at what is happening in society and how decision-makers are catering for cultural changes. “

Mr King, who is also writing to politicians in the north-east urging them to consider better alcohol and drugs education following the problems with youngsters being exposed, went on to say:

“Decision makers need to think seriously about the message young people are receiving and how to further responsible drinking education.  Many see getting in to clubs and bars underage as a challenge and, unfortunately, some are succeeding.  With little experience or knowledge of their limits of the substance it’s very dangerous as we saw last week with a group of girls – some aged 14 – being allowed in to Prohibition Bar and then being taken to hospital.”

“It’s disgraceful that premises are failing to ID customers and that they are exploiting vulnerable teenagers, many of whom have only just started secondary school.  This needs to stop and I praise the licensing committee for revoking licences this week.”

“As vice-chair of the youth council I hear frequently of people drinking underage and it upsets me that firms are being irresponsible and allowing children in to their pubs and clubs.”

Barry Black, chair of the youth council and Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, who released survey results on underage drinking in the north east in April of this year, said:

“I support Struan in his call for change and am keen to investigate new methods of alcohol education in schools. This is an area of discussion I will continue to encourage within the organisation, especially after the shocking results from my survey were released earlier this year. Youngsters going out underage do not know their limits and are incredibly vulnerable.”

Youth councillor Kenneth Watt added:

“You only need to look at the clubs’ Facebook photos to see how many under-agers are drinking there frequently.”

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Jan 272012

By Bob Smith.

There’s jist nithing ti dee
Young eens cry in Aiberdeen
Iss wisna muckle o a problem
Fin I wis aroon seventeen
There wis cafes bi the dizzen
Faar ye cwid sit an chat
The famous Holburn Cafe
Or maybe the Kit Kat
Syne later on alang Union Grove
Ye cwid dander wi ease
An cum upon The Rendezvous
Better kent as Mama G’s
I learnt the airt o duncin
At Garlogie, Echt an Skene
Syne twis  ti the dunce halls
In bonnie Aiberdeen
Wednesdays – Abergeldie Jazz Club
Ti listen or jive ti Sandy West
Setterday – doon ti “The Beach”
Faar Leslie Thorpe wis at his best
There wis ither eens o coorse
The Palace, Douglas or the Palais
Faar ye cwid fin a bonnie quine
Ti snog up some dark alley
There wis Rock n’ Roll an ballads
Maybe jazz it wis yer choice
Played on the latest record players
Made bi Decca or His Master’s Voice
There wis lots o drainpipe troosers
Sweaters wi necks ca’ed crews
There wis Tony Curtis haircuts
An ticht winkle picker shoes
Ti the open air duncin at Hazleheid
Ye wid wanner hand in hand
Ti listen ti the music
Or waltz ti Bert Duff’s Band
On Sundays ye’d “waak the mat”
An see lassies bi the score
Maybe ye’d bump inti een
Ye’d snogged the nicht afore
There wis hullocks o picter hooses
The Majestic an a haill lot mair
The Capitol an the Astoria
Even hid an organ player
Ye ask’d a lassie ti the picters
She wis dolled up ti the nines
Ye really felt a cheapskate
Gyaan in the one an nines
The faavrit meetin plaicies
Fer the young an gallus
Wis ootside the “Monkey Hoose”
Or near the statue o William Wallace
There wis Eric, Bill, Neil, Ian an me
We fairly thocht we war dashin
Noo we’re aa ower sixty five
An rinnin oot o passion

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011

May 062011

By Stephen Davy-Osborne.

Malaika Africa have launched a charity event of X-traordinary proportions, calling upon teenagers to put their vocal and musical skills to the test to help raise funds to build a school for children in Tanzania.

The NEX Factor (North East X Factor) will take place in June, following the format familiar to many, with auditions taking place in Elgin, Aberdeen and Dundee, from which three finalists from each set of auditions will go head to head at the AECC in August. Of these nine finalists, three will be chosen by the judging panel, with the final vote going to the audience on the night.

The lucky winner will walk away with an amazing prize of recording studio time, courtesy of Musical Vision, a professional photo shoot, courtesy of Paul Mackie photography and £1000 cash.

On the judging panel is Ross Milne from Forfar band The Trade, who will also be performing on the finals night. The Trade have very kindly given the charity a song to be used in a video that is being made out in Africa this summer before the event, which will be unveiled on the final night.

Yasmeen Ali of Malaika Africa is keen for as many local teens to get involved as possible:

“The idea behind this is that as we are building a school for the children in Africa, I would like the children of the North East to be involved in this build hence the above idea: children of the North East helping the children of Africa.”

All teens between the age of 13 and 19 are invited to apply for the auditions taking place in June, with the final taking place on August 13th at the Gordon Suite at the AECC in Aberdeen.

Application forms can be downloaded from the website, and for those not wishing to brave the spotlight, an online donation service is also available.

See: www.malaika-africa.co.uk