by Dov Kornits

Andrew Steel is Australia’s best kept secret! Following graduation from NIDA and a few smaller roles, like virtually every other Australian actor, Steel headed to the US for pilot season.

“When I first touched down in LA, I just saw the number of homeless people and the poverty that was right there. You couldn’t not see it,” he tells us with a passion. I started thinking, ‘what can I do to help this situation?’ I was going make a short film about homelessness and then I thought, ‘where’s this going to screen? Who’s going to see it. How is that going to change things?’

“I had an idea to create a film festival where we would have all different issues; a platform for humanitarian filmmakers to have their voices heard. We’d invite all the non-profits to be a part of the conversation and panel discussions and in-foyer activations and virtual reality and all these kinds of things. We called it Flicks 4 Change.

“When I was just starting Flicks 4 Change, I went to an event and Frank Shankwitz was speaking there,” he says referring to the founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “I approached Frank to meet him and started telling him about the idea and he stopped me and goes, ‘you know what, somebody like you should be playing me in this movie! Hey, Greg, this guy should play me in the movie!’

“And I’m like, ‘what movie, who’s Greg?’ Greg comes over and he puts his cowboy hat on me. He’s like, ‘that’s just crazy enough to work!’”

Greg S. Reid was producing Wish Man, the extraordinary true story of Frank Shankwitz, abandoned by his parents at a young age, a motorcycle cop in his twenties before inspiration strikes to set up Make-A-Wish.

“I went down to San Diego and had an audition with the writer/director, Theo Davis. They said, ‘you are the guy, we’re not looking any further. You’ve got Frank’s seal of approval and we think you’re great’.”

After being cast in the lead role, Andrew Steel had to wait an entire year before the cameras started rolling.

“I could have been replaced,” he says today. “It’s an indie film, you’re always looking for more money, if there’s too much money then Matt Damon gets brought in. I was like, ‘what can I do, not only to solidify myself in the production, but how can I make the film as great as it can be?’ I rolled up my sleeves and helped out where I could.”

This earned the actor an Associate Producer credit on the film, but then he was also key to the film’s Oscar’s campaign, which resulted in the film being on the long list for an Academy Award nomination in 2020. “They bumped me up to co-producer, which is much appreciated.”

Growing up in the eastern suburbs beachside Sydney suburb of Bronte and attending a prestigious private high school is a world away from playing a damaged young cop in Southwest USA, but somehow the Andrew Steel pulls it off with flying colours, his masculine performance reminiscent of Australian actors such as Eric Bana, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, Russell Crowe, etc who have impressed Hollywood.

“I had a year to prep the character,” Steel says. This included firearms training, riding a 1980s vintage Harley, and Frank Shankwitz’s unique Arizona via Chicago accent. “It’s a big responsibility, telling the story of Frank, his life story. It’s one thing to be a character in a movie, but when it’s somebody’s life, everything that they’ve lived and worked for… he’s so stoic and he’s done so much.

“Frank was there the whole way,” Steel continues. “The only thing he had an issue with was that an extra button kept on popping from my uniform in the shoot. He is like, ‘no, no, no. We would be in a lot of trouble if that was like that’. I could ask him very personal questions even before takes. I got him to read out my script and recorded his accent. I was also working with a great dialect coach.”

On top of this was the responsibility of depicting the birth of Make-A-Wish in the right light.

“I was certainly aware of Make-A-Wish,” Steel says about the project. “It’s in 50+ countries around the world. A wish is granted every 20 minutes, there’s been over half a million wishes.

“Once I was cast in the film and telling people, so many people had a brother or a cousin or a friend or somebody that’s been touched by Make-A-Wish. For each wish there’s one kid, but then there’s the whole family and the friends circle that have all been suffering through the illness as well. That’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s not just for the kids, it’s for the family seeing their child with a smile forgetting for a minute everything they’ve been through.”

Wish Man has been a life changing experience for Andrew Steel. Kym Jackson was a fellow Aussie in LA acting friend at the time, he lobbied for her to play a role in the film, now they’re married and have a young child together.

They’re both also back in Sydney, living on the Northern Beaches and trying to get projects off the ground.

“I went to the Cannes Film Festival, where Wish Man was screening,” says Steel when we ask him why the film hasn’t led to more leading roles. “Just from that, I had three offers. And then COVID happened, all those projects were put on the back burner, you lose that momentum…”

There’s no doubt, though, that the enterprising and talented Andrew Steel will have his name in lights again very soon.

“We’re hustling. My wife and I are constantly looking for projects and getting behind the production side. We’re producing one at the moment. Kym has a leading role, Luke Ford is playing our leading guy, it’s a parallel universe film,” Steel says about Timothy Boyle’s Aussie indie Other You, which goes into production next week, with the actor playing a supporting role. We guarantee that no one will miss Andrew Steel when they see the final film.

Wish Man is available to rent on the WONDER streaming platform. 40% of the proceeds from any rental or purchase of Wish Man through goes directly to Make-A-Wish Australia.