Justice for Barb! Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what a remarkable and awe-inspiring young woman Shannon Purser is. Instead of silently riding the wave of fame that came her way when her Stranger Things character Barb became a cult heroine, Purser chose to use her platform and speak candidly to her hordes of fans about her anxiety, depression, body image struggles and OCD – issues that her fans (young and old) suffer from and are ashamed of every day. She did all this while filming back to back projects, including Riverdale, Rise (RIP), and Wish Upon. This Friday, the stunning role model is finally (!!) the front and centre star of a teen romantic comedy, a gender-reversed take on Cyrano de Bergerac, Sierra Burgess is a Loser (and frankly, one of my favourite movies of the year).
We had the exciting opportunity to chat with Shannon Purser on the phone a few weeks ago and the following is an edited and condensed version of that delightful conversation.
Brief Take: Your honest article in Teen Vogue about your own struggles with depression and anxiety provided so much strength and hope to your fans who may be going through the exact same issues. You’ve always been so refreshingly open about what you’ve underwent in your life and because of that you’re a role model to thousands of young people. Who are some of your role models?
Shannon Purser: What a great question! In terms of the industry, Meryl Streep obviously is the queen of acting, but I really love Brie Larson. She’s an incredible actress and also an activist, and just has so much depth to her that I really admire. And then people behind the scenes as well, like Ava DuVernay is incredible, she is making so many positive strides as a director and I really admire the work that she’s doing.
BT: Let’s talk about Sierra Burgess is a Loser, which I loved. What was it like working with your phenomenal cast mates RJ Cyler, Noah Centineo, Chrissy Metz and Kristine Froseth?
SP: It was incredible, honestly. I kind of think that we hit the jackpot, honestly, in terms of our cast, because they’re all incredibly kind and talented and authentic people and we really had a great time together.
BT: What was your favourite memory from making the film?
SP: I loved getting to know Kristine (Froseth). I knew that she initially was going to be playing my enemy going into the movie, so I didn’t know what to expect when I met her. But she’s incredible and we just hit it off so well from the very beginning. I think that all of the friendships that I made on the set were really incredible. We just would hang out and have a great time together.
BT: Having Lea Thompson and Alan Ruck as your on-screen parents must have been incredible! I love how supportive they are of Sierra, which isn’t the typical parent-child dynamic that you see in teen films.
SP: It highlights how easy it is, especially when you’re young, that you’re all alone, and nobody understands you. It’s because Sierra has these incredible parents that wanted to help her, and wanted to listen. But it was really a journey that she needed to go on for herself.
BT: What was it like working on the beautiful song from the movie, ‘Sunflower’?
SP: It was incredible. I loved working on my first time singing on camera, which was incredible and scary. I think I look at my voice so personally, and it’s a little bit scary to expose that part of yourself. But everybody was so encouraging and welcoming, and I think that it turned out really well. It was cool that Troye Sivan was a part of this song. Music is very important to me. I’m very into singer-songwriters and great lyrics and things that feel a little bit more authentic.
BT: What do you watch on Netflix?
SP: That’s a great question. I’m really into stuff that is scary and creepy. I like Black Mirror a lot and I like anything that’s a little bit horror-oriented. But I also like animated shows, too, like there’s one called Trollhunters that’s made by Guillermo del Toro. It’s so precious and I love it! I would cry if I met Guillermo del Toro, he’s my hero!
BT: Will we see you on the upcoming season of Riverdale?
SP: Yeah, I’m actually working on season 3 right now.
BT: What do you hope that viewers take away from Sierra Burgess is a Loser?
SP: The movie really is learning about how to love and accept yourself, and to be honest, even when it’s scary, and that’s what I hope that everybody, and especially young people, will take away from it.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser begins streaming on Netflix this Friday!