McLaren was born in Wonthaggi, Victoria and grew up on a dairy farm near Leongatha. He is the drummer of the band Rapids and also plays bass guitar in the band Bogey Lowensteins. His parents are both Scottish.
After appearing in a number of amateur productions for the Leongatha Lyric Theatre, as well as school productions, McLaren made the leap to professional work with a recurring role on the ABC series Something in the Air, when he was 12 years old. Several further TV credits followed, including the children's series Worst Best Friends, The Saddle Club and Fergus McPhail, guest roles on Blue Heelers, Comedy Inc and a recurring role on Neighbours.
McLaren's first main cast role came in 2004 with the children's series Silversun, which aired on both the Seven Network and the ABC. His feature film debut followed in 2005 with the low budget Melbourne feature Court of Lonely Royals, directed by Rohan Michael Hoole. 2005 also saw McLaren work on Last Man Standing, and achieve a solid footing on the advert voiceover circuit. In 2006, McLaren began working on the children's series H2O: Just Add Water, appearing from series one through midseason of series three as the character Lewis McCartney. From 2008, he appeared in Packed to the Rafters in the role of Nathan Rafter.