Shannon Purser on moving on from Stranger Things
Shannon Purser has had a whirlwind year. From her role as the ever-concerned (and painfully forgotten) Barb in Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to the lonely, bullied Ethel Muggs on the CW’s “Riverdale,” she’s carved out a niche for herself as the constant fan favourite.
Now, Purser is taking to the big screen in teen thriller “Wish Upon” alongside a grown-up Joey King, Sherilyn Fenn and Ryan Phillippe. Once again, Purser finds herself in the role of the moral compass for King’s character, Clare. After discovering a mysterious wish-granting music box, Clare begins to wish herself into the life she’s always wanted — but, as is always the case, there’s a price. Spoiler alert: People die.
We chatted with Purser about her film debut ... and Barb, of course.
Q: Why do you think you’ve found so much success in the roles as the voice of reason?
A: I grew up in a house with all girls, so I’m used to having a lot of hormones around that can create craziness. I feel like I’m the mom of my friend group, too. I like to take care of people and give advice when they need it, so I definitely relate to Barb.
Q: If you were given this wishgranting box, what would you do?
A: Oh, my gosh. Ugh. Well, every wish comes with a very terrible price, so if somebody was going to die if I made a wish, I don’t think I’d make a wish. But, if nobody was hurt, I would probably wish that I would somehow get cast in the next Oscar-winning movie. That would be amazing.
Q: You were able to complete most of your high school experience before your career exploded. Does that help you in these roles?
A: I didn’t really have a normal high school experience. I was home-schooled and went to a coop, so basically a school with about maybe 200 other homeschooled kids that would come together for classes. So that was interesting because then “Stranger Things” was kind of my first real public high school experience.
Q: So, despite not having a normal high school experience, you’ve been able to portray high schoolers across different decades.
A: Oh, yeah. I think it was really cool, especially with “Stranger Things.” I was already so in love with the ’80s and grew up listening to that music and watching classic movies. Obviously, I didn’t get to live through the ’80s, but I was already familiar with it, so that was really cool to be able to go back in time. And in “Riverdale,” even though it is modern day, it has that same ’50s feel as the original “Archie” comics. That’s what I love about movies and TV: You can go anywhere any time and be whoever you want.
Q: In addition to the decade differences, there are also a lot of other differences in how high school is portrayed in each of these projects. What’s been the best part of that?
A: I’m still fairly new to this, but even so I’ve gotten to experience so many different worlds within the high school-aged teen genre. “Stranger Things” is all very authentic to the ’80s and very real, and “Riverdale” feels darker, and the production and sets are really beautiful. It feels a bit more dramatic, whereas our high school in “Stranger Things” feels very real and authentic. It’s been really cool to see how everybody has a different take on what the high school experience is like.
Q: A common theme across your projects so far has been an overall eeriness. Did that happen by chance or are you a big scary movie fan?
A: Oh, I love it. I think I saw “Scream” on TV when I was a kid and probably not allowed to. But I loved it. There’s something so great about being terrified while you’re in the safety of your own home. It’s an adrenalin rush.
Q: So, that being said, are you maybe returning to “Stranger Things” at all?
A: As far as I know, Barb is dead. Really, really dead. I’ve seen articles saying otherwise, but they finished filming Season 2 and haven’t gotten in touch with me. So, I think unfortunately it really is the end for Barb. They do tell me there’ll be justice for her in Season 2, but I don’t know what that means.
Q: Are you hoping to pull away from Barb or are you leaning into that and her fan base?
A: I’m always going to be so thankful for it. I never anticipated that she would become as popular as she did, so I definitely owe a lot to (the Duffer Brothers, the creators of “Stranger Things”) and everybody at Netflix for really seeing something in me and taking a chance on that. I love Barb and I’ll always be willing to talk about her, but I definitely want a long career and I want to play a lot of different roles, so I’m excited to branch out.
Q: You’ve talked openly about your bisexuality, but bi-erasure is an issue not only in the real world, but also in film. What strides are you hoping to see for bi representation?
A: I think that within the past decade or so, we’ve seen some pretty good strides in terms of LGBT representation, but there’s so much more work that needs to be done. A lot of times, gay characters are represented in unrealistic or stereotypical ways. In the case of bisexual characters they’re often portrayed as a player and they just want to sleep with everybody or they think they’re bisexual but they’re really just gay or lesbian and haven’t made up their minds yet. I think we can definitely do with more realistic representation.
Sydney Park, left, Joey King and Shannon Purser in “Wish Upon”: people die.