Austin P. McKenzie, who plays a young
Cleve Jones in the ABC miniseries When We Rise, says that he
can relate to Jones' “lifelong search for a father figure.”
The 7-part miniseries from Gus Van Sant
and Dustin Lance Black takes a look at the people and events that
shaped the modern LGBT rights movement.
McKenzie, 23, who is best known for his
role as Melchior Gabor in Deaf West Theater's 2015 Broadway revival
of Spring Awakening, portrays a young Cleve Jones, while Guy
Pearce plays the activist in later years.
McKenzie told gay glossy OUT that he
was studying to be a special-education teacher when he applied to be
a sign-language interpreter for Spring Awakening.
“When I showed up, they offered me
one of the lead roles, which I almost turned down,” he said.
He added that he connected to Jones'
“lifelong search for a father figure.”
“I grew up without a father. To be
frank, it’s still painful and a lot of what I’ve been dealing
with my whole life,” McKenzie
said. “One of my favorite things about Cleve’s story is his
relationship to [slain gay politician] Harvey Milk. I could connect
to Cleve’s lifelong search for a father figure. While researching
the role one day, I couldn’t stop crying, and I called Cleve and
told him. I think it’s because I had created an imaginary father in
Harvey. If I feel that much just from portraying Cleve, I can only
imagine what the real Cleve feels.”
When We Rise premiered Monday.