Perth-native Mia Challis sits casually behind a Zoom call, mid-story, when her phone buzzes.
Although it interrupts the flow of our conversation and the hilarious she was recounting from her time on-set of the upcoming series, ‘User Not Found’, she elegantly picks up the phone, jots down a note, and picks up the story seamlessly from where she left off.
“That was my US manager – she keeps me very busy,” Mia politely chuckles.
The ease with which Mia continues the conversation, simply focused on engaging with our team of editors personally versus promoting herself, is a testament to the genuineness of her down-to-earth nature. The former athlete holds herself with the confidence of a young Uma Thurman or Nicole Kidman – their shared height a physical embodiment of the stand-out quality of this hard-working actor.
“Even though I’ve been compared to actresses like that, which lends itself to an interesting set of roles, I tend to think more about stories I’d like to play in, rather than actors whose careers I’d like to emulate.”
Such assertiveness, blanketed by a curious dexterity, has been entrenched throughout the filming process for her new series User Not Found, in which she plays the starring role of Kate.
While she was filming the Netflix thriller series Clickbait up until recently, alongside Entourage star Adrien Grenier, COVID naturally halted the filming of nearly all productions all over the world. Perth, Australia’s most isolated city, enjoys the safe benefit of having zero cases. It’s this safety which has afforded her new opportunity in filming User Not Found.
While most actors are lucky to spend time on set alongside one big name in their entire career, Challis seemingly floats between high-caliber sets with ease, joining forces with fellow Aussie stars Mel Wozniak (ABC’s Itch) and Cooper van Grootel, who recently joined the cast of highly-anticipated NBC/Peacock series One of Us Is Lying.
“My cast mates and I are all from Australia,” Mia says with a smile, ” so it’s nice to have this home base, no matter how long we are all away from it’s great to know that we all have a network of like minded people back home.”
Indeed, Mia knows this well, as she spent a period of time meeting with producers and filmmakers in Vancouver.
“Having a place like Perth to come back to and reset after intense periods of working in other parts of the world is a blessing”
In User Not Found, Mia plays psychology student Kate Andrews, an ambitious overachiever focused on her career who prefers her studies over university parties. The introverted nature of Kate, and the character’s lack of socialisation and experiential blindness, means she leans into trusting people most others wouldn’t. Suffice to say, it leads Kate – and Mia’s performance – down a dark path.
“It’s dark, but it’s real,” Mia elaborates. “People in today’s world can be too trusting on social media and playing overly trusting character like this made me realise how often stories like this happen.”
Earlier on in her career, Mia enjoyed time on set alongside award-winning Aussie actress Jessica Marais in the feature film Two Fists, One Heart. The break from screen acting after this critical appearance, during which she focused on schooling, and theatre productions like Pride and Prejudice in the lead role of Elisabeth Bennet and Chicago, in which she took on the iconic role of Velma Kelly. Those experiences more than adequately prepared Mia with insights into pursuing excellence and being an overachiever herself.
“I was more of a theatre buff at school, so although I didn’t study psychology like Kate, I definitely know what it’s like to have tunnel blindness when it comes to pursuing lofty goals.” Mia continues, occasionally interrupting her answers with relatable commentary over Zoom ensuring that I’m interested in her story. A contradiction of sorts – Mia is indeed a star, but a relatable one at that.
“I didn’t have a clue on how to become an ‘actor’,” Mia admits ,”so I would spend my weekends reading plays, watching movies and trying to understand the industry.”
This duality of personality – Mia is at one an extrovert and also perfectly comfortable being a homebody – is precisely the rare and one-of-a-kind nuance that has informed many of Mia’s performances.
In the critically acclaimed film Memories, alongside award-winning actor Alistair Cooke, for instance, Mia has a scene where she is told her partner has been killed in a roadside accident. The moment prior to this she is seen laughing with friends, completely unaware, and the switch from laughing to crying in a matter of moments, upon seeing the police to deliver the tragic news is a masterclass in screen acting.
In highly-regarded film project Backstabbers, Mia portrays a character that is at the top of the school social hierarchy, her circle of friends are deadly, killing any students that get in their way. Towards the end of the film her character loses all control of her friendship circle, in the final scene, Mia’s character learns that she is in fact next to be killed if she doesn’t keep up her murdering antics. The complexity of her performance in the realisation of her character’s situation, suffice to say, is incredible and the final shot of the film is a close up on Mia’s face. The ending is left open to the viewers, and encapsulates the same type of nuanced performance that Mia presents as Kate in User Not Found.
Mel Wozniak, star of ABC’s Itch, speaks with enthusiasm and ease when asked about Mia’s status as one of Australia’s brightest talents.
“Mia’s an incredibly supportive co-star – she’s a true collaborator and an incredible actor. Her work speaks for itself.”
When Mia is questioned about filming, her response is true to nature – humble and work-focused.
“This particular filming process was a big learning curve for me,” Mia concedes. “I had never worked on a production that required moments of ‘Vlog’ style camera work, so when I was preparing for the role of Kate I watched hours of videos from famous YouTube vloggers so that I could understand that type of lifestyle.”
It’s unsurprising such fascinating insights into an actor’s preparation from this intelligent Aussie star – after all, its actors like Mia who make it look easy to play pretend in a social climate that craves new stories now more than ever.