REWIND on Hollywood star-in-the-making Declan Laird’s story and it is a series of Sliding Doors moments. The life of the young man from the sleepy Renfrewshire village of Kilmacolm has altered dramatically thanks to a snap of his anterior cruciate ligament, an outrageous $50 bet with his father, and the approach by two strange men in an Los Angeles sushi restaurant.

Had none of this happened, the 22 year-old with the boy band looks and Jedward hair (according to his mum) wouldn’t be living in West Hollywood, starring in two upcoming indie films and be set to fly to Cuba to appear in an international TV series.

“That’s true,” says Laird, relaxing in his village coffee bar while in Scotland for a break. “But of course when you tear your major knee ligament you don’t immediately see the positives.”

Of course you don’t. Five years ago, Laird’s life was headed in a different direction. As a footballer about to make his professional debut for Greenock Morton in a cup tie against Hearts, the beating of his 17-year-old heart seemed louder than the 5,0000 crowd.

Then eight minutes in, Laird leapt to head the ball. He soared above the defenders but as he landed he felt his knee rip inside. His main ligament had torn. This Sliding Doors moment was in fact a door slamming shut.

At best, Laird could hope for a career in coaching, and with good physio perhaps be able to take part in practice games. “I was pretty miserable,” he recalls. “That summer, my dad took me on holiday to America, to Los Angeles, where I’d always dreamed of going since I’d discovered the TV show Entourage, by way of giving me a pick-me-up. So we did the tour of the houses of the stars; all that nonsense. And one afternoon, we found ourselves dropped off by the tour bus on Hollywood Boulevard, with a few hours to kill before dinner.”

It was a fateful moment. “I didn’t notice but there was a chalkboard just a few feet away advertising the Stella Adler Acting Academy, and workshops with Oscar-winning producer Milton Justice.

“My dad said to me ‘Do the workshop, Declan.’ I said ‘What workshop?’ And I read the board and replied ‘Not A Chance!’ But he persisted. ‘Do it. Your mum will love the story.’ But I didn’t fancy the idea of my dad watching me do an acting workshop. So what he did was bribe me, $50 dollars. Twenty five up front and twenty five when I’d finished."

Laird, of course, had no idea the school boasted Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Salma Hayek among its alumni but he put himself forward.

“I insisted my dad stay outside. I did some readings, learned a monologue and at the end of the hour my dad met the head of the school who told him I’d made him laugh. And he added I should think about a career in acting.”

Laird and his dad laughed off the very notion and back home worked on rebuilding his knee, but prompted by his mother he attended a Film and Media Studies course at college in Greenock.

“She wanted me to get a qualification. As a footballer I hadn’t considered further education. But one day, just as I was just about to begin my football coaching badges course, a business card for the Stella Adler Acting School fell out my wallet. I saw it as a sign. It made me think I really wanted to give the business a go.”

Was it easy to forget the football dream? “I was never really passionate about football,” he admits. “You see, my dad played for Chelsea and my brother Stefan was with Rangers and then Blackpool and Sky Sports was on permanently in our house. I was brought up on football. But while my bother would go round the park and hit free kicks for four hours at a time, I never did that once.”



He adds, grinning; “He’ll hate me for saying this but I’d say I was naturally more talented, so I got away with it. I was a good rugby player as well; I’d play rugby for the school [St Columba’s[ on Saturday mornings and then go straight to a local football club, my knees still bogging. But at 14, a few professional football teams were interested and they said rugby had to go.”

Now, football had gone. But how to build a career in acting? Laird’s dad John, a one-time football agent and now a businessman, rang actor friend Jim Sweeney.

“I didn’t mention the American experience but Jim did some camera tests and said I had potential. He introduced me to an acting agency and they put me up for an audition for River City. I knew I had no chance. This was just experience.”

Incredibly, despite only having an hour’s acting lesson in LA, and never even appearing in a school play, River City offered Laird a role, of a doctor’s daughter’s tearaway boyfriend, alongside Holly Jack, over three episodes.

“Two weeks later I was on set with the likes of Johnny Beattie. I’d never even met an actor in real life, but it all felt so right, so welcoming.”

Laird went on to appear in a short film The Lost Purse, which earned him the Best Male Actor accolade at the Write Camera Action event in Glasgow in 2012, the honour being repeated at several US film festivals.

Meantime, he’d kept in touch with Stella Adler. “I told them about the River City experience and the head of the school emailed back with the reply, ‘Just because you’re in a TV show, don’t think you can act’. But at the same time they offered me a place on their two-year acting course.”

Of course they did. They wanted the fees. Or so you would have thought. When Laird wrote back saying he couldn’t afford a two-year stint in LA, the school offered a free scholarship.

Laird weighs up his words. “I don’t want to sound boastful but they hadn’t given a hundred per cent scholarship since Robert De Niro. Yet, I later learned there was another reason why they chose me. Mark Ruffalo [Dr Bruce Banner/the Hulk in The Avengers] had been the last poster boy for the school and they reckoned I could fill that slot.”

Two months after his 18th, while his friends were heading off to uni, the poster boy-to-be took off to LA, living at first in a hostel then moving into the tiniest apartment. “I couldn’t buy a cheap car because I couldn’t get credit, so I had to take the bus to school in Hollywood Boulevard with the crazies, the people who talk to themselves. I’d just try not to make eye contact.”

But he made friends with those of a more balanced mind, such as former Radio Clyde presenter Ross King, now an entertainment reporter in Hollywood. “My aunt knew Ross and asked if he would look out for me. He picked me up and took me to his house in the Hollywood Hills and helped me find an apartment. He’s been like a big brother.

“When I mentioned I was interested in getting into a football team in LA, to help make friends, he said he’d ‘sort something out.’”

A few days later, Laird, his knee “recovered just enough” to play non-professional football, picked up his phone to hear a Cockney voice. “A voice said ‘Is this Declan? It’s Vinnie. Vinnie Jones.’ I said, laughing; ‘Is that you, Dad? Stop winding me up.’”

Jones would not only pick up the young Scot and take him to his Hollywood All-Star matches, he even took him to acting auditions.

“Vinnie’s great. He invited me up to barbecues and poker nights at his house in Mulholland Drive, next door to Quentin Tarantino.”

Laird’s social life was forming, but he had to come to terms with his American drama school philosophy. “Sometimes we had yoga before the warm-ups, and it seemed strange, but I got used to it. The other problem was people were talking about plays by someone called Arthur Miller and I had no idea what they were talking about. I knew nothing of writing, so I set myself to read a play every week, a Tennessee Williams or a Shakespeare, whatever.”

He also had to master an American accent. “The school wanted me to go up for auditions as Americans. They wanted me to become known to casting directors, so they demanded I speak as an American, all day long. I’d still speak with a Scottish accent to friends, but if I went into a coffee bar I’d speak in American. And I learned different dialects.”

The discipline worked. Before his drama school stint was over, Stella Adler were sending him for auditions. He landed a pilot show, which wasn’t commissioned, but it looked like Laird was getting there. Then came six months of nothing. Reality dawned. “I was going into auditions against guys I’d seen in TV shows. The competition was that tough. When I was acting I felt I was too robotic, using a different accent meant losing my cheeky-chappie natural thing.”

Did he feel like quitting? “That’s not me,” he says, shaking his head. “If I were playing in a football match and we were getting beaten five nil I’d be the last to quit.”

He adds: “What also helped was meeting actors who became mentors, great guys like Max Beesley and Cillian Murphy. They remind me it’s a number’s game. You have to keep trying.”

Laird did just that. He also learned to be patient. He learned casting can be about looking like the guy playing your dad, about being the right height. He learned it wasn’t always about talent. Laird also learned it was about being noticed at auditions.

“I’d do is go in, read for the part in American, and at the end say in a Scots accent: ‘That was great, thanks for seeing me,’ and they’d be so taken aback it became a talking point.”

Laird’s tenacity was rewarded by another lovely Sliding Doors moment. “I was in a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles, skypeing my dad and asked two guys who were sitting nearby if they would keep an eye on my laptop while I nipped to the bathroom.

“When I came back we got talking and they said they were in acting management, gave me their card, and asked me to come to their office. You worry about being offered cards by strange men in LA but they were genuine.”

Laird was on a roll. He landed a Chevrolet ad, playing a teen American. TV dramas followed such as Camp Abercorn, a crime drama filmed by Amazon, and two indie movies, including What Happens At Night, in which he plays a recently converted vampire with a conscience.

In the New Year he will appear in Havana, a Netflix drama, filmed in Cuba, where he plays a cheeeky barman.

“There is a lot of money behind it and I’ve got a great part.”

But his ambitions don’t stop there. Ironically, while he never scaled the dizzy heights of school academia, Laird has written a short film and his working on a feature-length biopic idea.

Does he feel acting/writing has been his destiny all along?

“I think so,” he says. “As a young boy I was a shy kid until my dad taught me to talk to people. But I’d watch movies and think; ‘I could do that.’ In the football dressing room, I’d do impressions of the likes of Martin O’Neill.”

He adds, with a wry smile. “You know the truth? I wasn’t a great football player. I’d played friendlies against Celtic and people like James Forrest ran rings around me. So deep down I guess I wanted more for myself than to play football at the level I was at.”

What’s clear is Declan Michael Laird has the skills to make it as an actor in Hollywood, and not just in acting talent. He’s learned how to promote himself. His Twitter account @declanmlaird has more than 100,000 followers and he featured in a Herald list of top Scots tweeters.

And his personal story is inspirational; that major success can emerge from disaster - if you try very hard. Yet, there must be some minuses. Come on, Declan. Your story is too much of a Frank Capra script?

“Well, I’m making a short film at Christmas and I’m playing a boxer and I have to have my head shaved,” he says, grinning. “My mum thinks it’s hilarious I’m losing my Jedward. I’ve told her it’s not a Jedward at all but she’s having none of it.”