Shan­non Purser on mov­ing on from Stranger Things

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - SHELBIE LYNN BOSTEDT

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.

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