There’s one scene in the new online series ‘User Not Found’, currently streaming in Australia, where Australian actress and Perth-native Mia Challis has to fight for her life.
The moment brings one of Mia’s other performances in ‘Backstabbers’ and ‘Raindance’ to mind, underscoring the ruthless commitment to story Challis brings to all of her projects. Challis’ character, Kate, climbs the stairs to her apartment's upper car park in search of her missing friend Sophie, and she paces frantically searching for any signs of life. She is determined, a woman on a mission to save her friend from the ensuing danger, but within moments it’s her own life that she is needing to save. Her characters' fight for survival makes her the focal point of the scene, with the audience holding on to her every breath hoping it’s not her last.
Challis, who worked alongside ‘Entourage’ star Adrien Grenier in new Netflix series ‘Clickbait’, excels at the shifts in emotion, and ‘User Not Found’ presents many of them. She breaks the frame with Aero (Cooper van Grootel), and her best friend (played by Melanie Wozniak)
But the series’ most interesting moment is when Aero’s true intentions with Kate are revealed, almost entirely reliant on Challis’ capacity to integrate the contradictory feelings that come with love and betrayal. For Challis it’s a career-defining performance, one of many that are no doubt yet to come from this Australian ingenué. It’s no surprise that Challis was a VIP guest at CineFestOz only a few weeks ago, the first live film festival to take place since the industry was decimated by COVID-19.
In a single close up frame Challis’ character ties the whole mystery together in her brain - she realises Aero is not the charming boy next door but in fact a highly dangerous man whose obsession with her has put her friends' life in jeopardy.
It’s unsurprising to know that Challis’ name has been on the lips of many American producers for the past several years, given the increasing demand for international talent.
For Challis’ representatives, it’s no surprise as she boasts Macedonian and Greek heritage that only a few years ago worked against her castability.
Now, in an era defined by COVID and cynical hopelessness but persistent hope, and as the world simultaneously lacks leadership but seeks creative innovation, Mia Challis represents the exact type of (increasingly rare) actor storytellers need and want more than ever. International, yet distinctly Australian. Globally resonant yet quietly specific. Challis possesses the qualities of many successful actresses gone before her, like Uma Thurman and Nicole Kidman’s height or Isabella Rosselini’s European-ness, who benefit from characteristics that at first glance (or in many instances) may have set them back but prove to be an asset in the long-run.
In another scene of ‘User Not Found’, Challis presents the type of impressive acting register that looks incredibly ‘easeful’ but in actuality takes many years for actors to develop. That is, a selfless access at absorbing and accepting the story as reality.
Mia has an ability to be completely ‘in’ a scene, the type of acting where you forget you're watching a movie or show, she dives so deep into her roles that reality is fully suspended.
Mia’s Australian agent, Nerida Moore, speaks to this in further detail. “[This is] something I have watched her master over her many years as an actress. Just when you think she can't go any deeper, she dives a little further and impresses me all over again!”
That’s all to comment on without even acknowledging the impressive status of the series itself. Boasting an all-name Australian cast and also featuring Tunisian star Sarah Nasri (Amazon’s ‘Finding Home’), ‘User Not Found’ encapsulates the sentiments of our current zeitgeist without being too ‘on the nose.’
When asked in an interview conducted for this profile, Mia herself brings more attention to the series and how damn-good it is, despite the fact most of the critical and audience attention seems to be on her performance.
“I feel so lucky to be a part of something this awesome. This story was unlike any I’d heard before, it has such an important message, especially to young people in today's world and I feel honored to be a part of the cast that is bringing it to life.”
The patterns of intensity and reprieve which defines much of the series sets a phenomenally appropriate standard from which Mia launches the next phase of her career - a set of upcoming engagements in the United States.
“I really cannot wait ...this project is something I'm so passionate about and i’m so excited to travel back to the United States to film. I’m not allowed to say too much yet, but I think the word excited is an understatement!”