LOS ANGELES -- When Sophie Lowe's latest visit to Hollywood failed to yield work, the young actress flew back home to Australia -- and quickly fell down a rabbit hole.
Within a day of returning to Sydney, Lowe had recorded an audition for "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland." Two days later she was asked to fly back to Los Angeles for another test, and within a week had the starring role of Alice.
"It happened so fast, it was just crazy," said Lowe, 23, still marveling over the unexpected new chapter in her career that had been focused on movies including the recently released "Adore" with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright.
The ABC series debuting at 7 p.m. Thursday is a relation of "Once Upon a Time," which brings fairy tale characters into the real world. "Wonderland" takes Lewis Carroll's tale in a different direction, with a mature Alice returned from her adventure to a cynical reception and mental institute.
But Alice has reason to believe in and yearn for what she's left behind, including the obligatory Cheshire cat and a certain genie, Cyril (Peter Gadiot), who has captured her heart. She seizes a chance to bolt Victorian England and return to the land where possible romance and certain danger await.
Forget Carroll's wide-eyed, girlish heroine; this one is ready for love and action and, said Lowe, is an actress' delight. There is deep emotion but also stunts to be done and punches to be thrown.
"She's a very strong woman, mentally and physically," Lowe said. "It's really fun to play because usually I play roles that are more weak, (but) this is inspiring to people and even myself. It's really uplifting to play a strong woman."
Lowe is 5-foot-7, but her delicate face and slender form make her emergence as a rough-and-tumble Alice unexpected. It's also encouraging to see an actress get onto U.S. TV screens without losing her fresh beauty to the homogenizing glamour factory.
It was the combination of her talent and beguiling look that made her right for "Wonderland," said executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who also are behind "Once Upon a Time."
"The minute we saw her on tape from Sydney it was undeniable," said Kitsis. "When she smiles, you immediately root for her. We always wanted Alice to be natural and feel real. We wanted to take the icon to a real woman, and Sophie to us was everything we wanted Alice to be."
Added Horowitz: "We couldn't rip our eyes away from her and thought the audience couldn't either."
For Lowe, who was born in Sheffield, England, and moved to Australia at age 10 with her parents and brother, "Wonderland" represents another step in her teenage dream of an acting career.
Is anyone else in her family in the business?
"Nooooo," she replies, sounding a bit surprised at the road she's taken. She studied dance and music at a performing arts school before acting called to her.
"I said, 'Yep, this is my life, this is who I am. This is where I'm most comfortable, and I'm not going to let anything stop me from doing it,'" she recalled, speaking by phone from the "Wonderland" set in Vancouver, B.C.
Carroll's classic has a special place in Lowe's heart as a childhood favorite that her mother read to her. Now it's carried her into a world of green-screen special effects and working with such established actors as Naveen Andrews of "Lost" -- "I was a bit star-struck when I first met him. But he's so lovely," Lowe said -- as the menacing Jafar.
She's got her eye on another star, one from Australia, as her role model, and sounds very much the young woman as she explains why.
"I've always loved Cate Blanchett," Lowe said. "Everything she does, she just glows. She's done stage and I've never done anything like that. I'd love to learn how to do stage. Maybe she can teach me one day; that would be cool."
"I just read she's directing her first film. ... I want to be in it!" she declared.
Producers Horowitz and Kitsis expect Lowe's talent to take her wherever she wants to go.
"I have no doubt within 10 years she will have credits that put us all in awe," Kitsis said.