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.