Interview by Denise Mallabo
For some, actress SHANNON PURSER’s brief and yet memorable appearance on Netflix’s Stranger Things as Barb left most of the fans screaming for justice. Even though that didn’t come into fruition, Shannon readily moved forward bagging one project after the other, enjoying her steady climb as the actress she aspires to be.
How are you, Shannon? What were you doing before this interview?
I'm doing well. I was on Twitter and listening to some oldies music.
Where are you from?
I'm from Roswell, Georgia.
How did your love for acting started?
I started acting in little plays at church and school, and then in community theater when I got a bit older. That's really where the acting bug bit me. But I didn't start pursuing acting professionally until I got scouted by an agency at a showcase when I was around 15. That's when I started doing auditions for TV and movies.
How has it been since your stint as being Barb on Stranger Things?
My life since Stranger Things has been a whirlwind. I never could have imagined that the show and, specifically, Barb would get as much attention as they did. I've been working pretty much non-stop since then and I'm so grateful to have had such an amazing first job.
What was the best thing about being part of Stranger Things?
Stranger Things is just an incredible show. It's absolutely everything I'd have wanted to watch even if I hadn't been in it. I love the 80's and science fiction. It's rare to get to be a part of a story you love and proud of for your first time and I did. It's a miracle. I think the best part was just getting to do what I loved, which was acting.
What was your initial reaction finding out that you got nominated for an Emmy for your character as Barb?
I was in complete shock when I found out I was nominated. I didn't expect it at all. I remember just standing there and feeling unable to function. It still blows my mind whenever I think about it. It feels like I'm living in a dream.
After Stranger Things, you made an appearance as Ethel on Riverdale. Can you tell us how that transpired?
I had a meeting at Warner Brothers when I was told that they were creating a new show based on the Archie Comics called Riverdale. They said the writers were fans of Stranger Things and that they'd like to meet me. The writers on Riverdale were so friendly, nerdy, and great. I'm a nerd too, so we got along well, and they called me soon after and asked if I wanted a part.
How do you feel that you’re going to be a lead star on your own Netflix original, which would be Sierra Burgess is a loser? How was it like shooting the movie?
Getting to be the lead in a movie for the first time (and hopefully not the last) was incredible and I feel grateful that it was Sierra Burgess. It was really an honor to be trusted with telling this story. We shot the movie in roughly 21 days and I was in almost every scene. It was an intense process, but ultimately so worth it. The cast and crew were wonderful, and I had a great time. It was an amazing learning experience. I was glad to find out that Netflix bought it. It's cool to still be part of the Netflix family.
Write-ups are saying that Sierra Burgess is a loser is a 2018 version of the play Cyrano de Bergerac. What would be the difference of it from each other? And how would the movie be adaptable to the present time?
Sierra Burgess is about a girl who pretends to be someone else over text message to get closer to the boy she likes. It's kind of like the play Cyrano de Bergerac in that they both use false identities and use someone else to help them express their feelings to their crush. However, Sierra uses texts to accomplish this instead of letters. I think ultimately the theme works in modern day because we can all relate to this idea of feeling like we need to change ourselves to fit in or find love.
What’s so good about being an actress at this very moment?
Back in the day, actors were kind of mythological creatures that only existed on screen and maybe in magazines. Now with television and social media, it's so much easier for me to connect to creators and artists that I admire and with the people who watch what I do. There are some disadvantages to having the world watching your every move, but it can be a real blessing too. I feel like I can use my platform to talk about things that matter to me and maybe make a positive difference. I've even gotten a job or two because of the internet. I also see Hollywood undergoing a lot of important changes. Things like the body positive movement and the "Me Too" movement are really encouraging to me.
What advice can you tell women who want to pursue a career in acting?
Honestly, I'm going to take a cue from Nike and say, "Just do it." Even if you're not able to pursue film or TV acting, audition for community theater or a drama club at school. Take acting lessons. The only real way to grow as an actor is to do it. It's a fickle business and everyone who does it has to face rejection and learn to overcome it, but I earnestly think that you must hold on to the knowledge that you have a gift worth sharing. We need more strong, talented women in the industry, so if acting is what you really love, don't give up.
What advice can you give to all the barbs in the world?
You're not alone. Part of being a Barb is tending to feel misunderstood or isolated. But there are people out there who love you and understand you, so please reach out.
What are you looking forward to this year?
The success of our NBC show Rise. We put a lot of work into it and I hope people like it. I'm also just looking forward to seeing what comes next for me.
If you can be a book, what kind of book would you be?
I guess I'd like to be a fantasy book. My life is pretty magical.
What charity is the closest to your heart?
There are a lot of great organizations out there, but I'd like to help The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Mental health and suicide prevention are both very important to me.
Photography: IRVIN RIVERA
Styling: GABRIEL LANGENBRUNNER
Photo Asst: PHIL LIMPRASERTWONG
Catch Shannon Purser in her first leading role in Sierra Burgess Is A Loser and her iconic role in Stranger Things as Barb.