Michael D. Cohen Says Trans Representation in 'Danger Force' Episode Is the 'Start of Something'

The actor, who transitioned over 20 years ago, tells PEOPLE about casting the first openly trans teen in a Nickelodeon live-action show

Danger Force
Photo: Nickelodeon

Having embraced his own truth, Michael D. Cohen wants to help others who have transitioned find their footing in Hollywood.

Cohen revealed in 2019 that he transitioned to male over 20 years ago, in April 2000, just before his acting career took off.

Last December, the actor, 45, launched the Trans Youth Acting Challenge as a way to help young people in the trans community make their way into the entertainment business. The casting call, which was also supported by a master class, was a huge success, bringing in hundreds of applicants ready to pursue their dreams of acting.

As the masterclass was ending, Cohen held auditions to cast one of the challenge participants in an upcoming episode of Nickelodeon's Danger Force, in which he stars as the character Schwoz.

Michael D. Cohen
Amanda Edwards/WireImage

After overseeing over 40 auditions, Cohen found the "best person for the job" in 13-year-old trans actor Sasha Cohen (no relation). Sasha and his twin sister Natalie will both appear on the upcoming Danger Force episode, "Manlee Men," which Cohen directed and co-wrote.

"This is the first time we have seen a trans kid on Nickelodeon live-action," Cohen tells PEOPLE.

Cohen says working on the episode was "one of the most fulfilling, creatively rewarding experiences."

"On set, there was a real buzz. There was a real feeling of people feeling like we're doing something really important here," he says. "I think it's going to be meaningful to a lot of people. And it's the start of something."

Cohen hopes viewers will "see themselves reflected back in some way that I wish I had when I was a kid."

"I transitioned 21 years ago. As a kid, I had nothing," he says. "I did not know that this existed. I knew who I was, but I think [I] was like, you have to push it down. Because how could that be possible? It was in the realm of magic."

"I think it's different now," he continues. "So it was really important to me that with the character, we were including the fact that he had a trans journey. That that was relevant to the story. It couldn't just be thrown in there and tokenized."

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The star is looking forward to other young people in the trans community feeling "seen and represented" while watching the episode, which will air later this month.

"Hopefully the message is that they see that they're important," he says. "And that despite backlash in certain areas of the world, there are far more people that love and support them and are going to fight for them."

As for those who don't know much about the trans experience, Cohen says he hopes the episode "shows them that kids are all the same."

"They're all alike," he says. "They all have strengths and vulnerabilities, and we're all human and all deserving of respect."

The Danger Force episode, "Manlee Men," will air on Nickelodeon on June 19.

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