Screen starlet Mia Challis on her new series shot COVID-style

Mia Challis filming her new series, ‘User Not Found‘, under COVID-19 mandates

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.” 

Mia Challis and Cooper van Grootel (Netflix’s ‘Go’) reviewing their scripts in between takes on the set of ‘User Not Found.’

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.”

Mia’s co-stars, Mel Wozniak (ABC’s ‘Itch’) and Cooper van Grootel, in the middle of a scene for ‘User Not Found’.

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.

Sarah Nasri: Behind the Scenes on her New Series

Sarah Nasri is busy in between scenes, wondering how she’s going to find time to get into character, and prepare for the other two scenes the producers of the upcoming series, Finding Home, plan to film later in the day.

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Sarah Nasri on set for her new series

“Set life is always hurry up and wait,” she offers with a smile. 

The Tunisian star, a globe-trotter since she was young, commands the space on set like any other leading lady before her. The difference now is that Sarah has had to manage filming in a COVID-19 environment, which presents new challenges all collaborators must overcome. 

For one, all actors must wear masks in between takes – creating problems for make-up and also representing another distraction actors must manage when getting ‘into the zone.’ 

An interesting anecdote from set, that perhaps would not have happened were it not for the prescribed COVID-19 mandates, concerned keeping the number of people in a closed place, restricted from one another.

“We had one actress scheduled for one scene during the first day of shoot,” Sarah tells us. “So to keep the people inside the apartment where we were filming, one of the PAs had to wait outside the filming set until we were done with the scene. It’s a little frustrating, but it also gives me a chance to explore the circumstances of the character in greater detail in between takes, so I don’t mind it.”

“Filming within COVID-19 mandates has meant it’s a little difficult to focus at times, because the producers are being so strict with maintaining stations and boundaries between crew and cast wherever possible, to ensure social distancing, but that in itself is an interesting challenge,” Sarah offers.

“I think sometimes external challenges on set are actually great in helping an actor focus – otherwise it’s easy to get complacent – the greater the distraction, the more effort I have to put into my story and what’s going to happen in the scene, but that ironically is something that can help make it more real.” 

Words of wisdom from an established actor, it’s no wonder that Sarah commands the attention of any viewer or producer. Also known for playing a frightful nun in Childhood Chills and Miss Roberts in By the Strings, on this production, Sarah enjoys another leading role in playing the character of Sofia. 

Sofia is a Colombian girl who moves from her home to America, facing the challenges of acculturation along the way.

“What I loved about playing Sofia is the ups and downs and all the happy and sad moments she has to go through in a short amount of time. She can be joyful during the day and extremely melancholic by the evening.

“Initially, I found [the fact that Sofia’s character is an introvert challenging, but throughout preproduction I grew to appreciate that aspect of the story more.”  

In addition to getting an insight into how Central American productions are resuming the filming process, our exclusive on-set visit also helped us get a true appreciation for the way in which fresh stories with an international focus are being made at an increasing rate. 

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National Geographic videographer Keith Ladzinski shooting The Birders in La Guajira Department, WhereNext’s feature documentary on Colombian bird diversity. Colombia has long been popular with international filmmakers for its landscape, but Sarah Nasri’s series speaks to how the country produces heartfelt character-based dramas. 

Everyone on set boasted an international pedigree of varying form and degree, creating a multifarious melting pot of cultures and different stories. One of the other actors is [Colombian] Nestor Sierra from Outlandish.”

Suffice to say, while Finding Home is ostensibly about a traveller, it is more about the search for home within oneself. 

Before she has to film and get make-up touches after taking off her mask, Sarah offers one final quote about the filming process.

“There’s nothing greater than creating life within life. During the filming process you get to transform into another character and experience emotions that you might not get the chance to experience in real life. It’s like living in a parallel universe. It also unites people and we all forget all our daily struggle, especially during Covid-19, and lose ourselves in the story we’re telling.” 

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Although she finds herself at home in front of the camera, Sarah Nasri enjoys getting lost in both character and story. Here she’s pictured behind-the-scenes on Finding Home.