LOS ANGELES — It’s not every day you come upon an actor who made it to Hollywood by way of Cleveland, Cambridge and Christian Dior. But that’s just how 24-year-old Trent Ford landed here during the annual feeding frenzy known as pilot season.
In July, the former Dior accessories designer stars in what’s sure to be the teenage date movie of the summer, “How to Deal,” opposite Mandy Moore. “It seems like, at this age, you’re merely a kissing post for some girl, but I am incredibly proud of this film,” says the budding heartthrob on a recent afternoon at his publicist’s house in the Hollywood Hills. For now, you can catch him on “The West Wing” in a recurring role as Jean Paul, a French artist who’s dating the president’s daughter. “I insult American foreign policy, it’s kind of cool,” he says. “I’m a bit of a hero back in England.”
The son of an Army test pilot, Ford was born in Ohio and spent the better part of his teenage years in England. Between high school and Cambridge, he ventured back to the States for a year, where he took a cross-country trip in a rickety $850 red 1984 Chevy Cavalier convertible. During a breakdown in Texas, as luck would have it, a modeling scout spotted him in an auto repair shop and eventually signed him with Storm Artists — the agency that represents Kate Moss, among others. But his agents soon decided his future lay in acting. “They figured I’d do better at that because I didn’t have rippling muscles and stubble and a tan,” he says.
While at Cambridge, he booked his first film, the little-seen “Deeply” co-starring Kirsten Dunst, which was a real eye-opener. “Kirsten was 18 and she’d been acting for years. She wouldn’t ever sit down when it was my turn for a close-up. She’d walk away and I’d have to shoot it with a P.A. I mean, she’s not Marlon Brando,” he says. “It was good training to deal with Hollywood starlets, though.”
He followed it up with two more films, including the indie “Slap Her She’s French” and Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park,” which he made three weeks before his finals. “I was the only one in the cast who asked Altman for a car and driver so I could go back and forth to school. If they had found out I was acting, I would have been expelled,” he says.
After earning his degree, he hung around London, where he styled photo shoots and did hair and makeup — an admission he follows immediately with “I know, a straight guy who does makeup.” He also found work at Christian Dior designing jewelry for two seasons.
Given his work experience, he has considerably more to say than the average male about fashion. “I’m always going to be a whore for finely cut suits and nice shirts,” he says, adding that he likes his clothing “organic. If you could take Galliano and let him live in an oak forest for about three years, that’s where I’d like to be. There are far too many frayed jeans in this city that aren’t frayed by the people who wear them.” But alas, the frugal lifestyle of a starving designer wasn’t for him, so about a year ago, he gave up. “I rolled up my sleeves and came out to L.A. to play with the big boys,” he says.
These days, he’s busy auditioning for various “next big thing” roles in pilots and films. It seems unlikely that Ford will slow down anytime soon, but he insists it’s a possibility. “I got a pretty lucky roll of the dice. In a year I got really poor, booked a film, got rich, got poor again, got on the ‘West Wing,’ and booked a couple more parts,” he says. “Now it looks like things might settle down.”