07/02/2013 at 04:10 PM EDT
Finding the perfect role can be difficult for any actor. But it was nearly impossible for Chaz Bono
, whose dream growing up was to act.
"I started acting in high school. It was the career that I wanted but I stopped because I couldn't really do a good job playing female characters and I didn't know why," Bono tells PEOPLE of life before he transitioned from being a woman to a man in 2009.
It was actually the first time Bono, 44, played a man on stage that convinced him to give up his goal.
"My senior year of high school I got cast as a male character and for the first time I really excelled," says Bono, who recently played the president of the United States in Thirty Minute Musicals: Independence Day
at the Celebration Theatre in West Hollywood. "But I told myself, 'This will never happen as a professional so I need to find another career.' "
After years of shying away from the spotlight, Bono returned to the stage as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars
in 2011, before guest starring on Degrassi: The Next Generation
and The Secret Life of the American Teenager
was an intense pressure cooker but this is total different," says Bono. "It felt so good to be acting again."
Inspired by the good feedback he received, Bono began acting classes and continued to work on his craft – as well as his body.
Now, looking slim and trim
, Bono is "always doing stuff to stay active" and is "pretty close" to reaching his fitness goals as he continues to gain confidence on stage.
"A lot of times there is an assumption that someone like me doesn't have skill or talent," says Bono, whose parents are Cher and the late Sonny Bono. "That is the battle that I feel I am up against. But I am doing the work to counteract that."
Bono says he had his eye on this latest part, parodying the role originated by Bill Pullman in the 1996 film. "Luckily, I got it," he says. "I've decided that hopefully it is never too late to do what you want to do."