Disappearing into a pool of fandom obscurity is what put Shannon Purser on the map, and what with upcoming film Wish Upon and her stint as Ethel Muggs on Riverdale, we’ve been left wanting more.
Although taking a dip in her best friend’s boyfriend’s pool might not have turned out that great for her, Shannon Purser made the most out of her short-lived character Barbara Holland on Stranger Things.
Now recognized as the patron saint of true friends taken for granted, viewers were given a last-minute reprieve from the pending doom of the horror sci-fi with Barb, in all her ruffled tops, high-waisted jeans, and wisdom lying beneath her oversized spectacles. But this teenage dream, which also ignited the hashtag #JusticeForBarb, all started and ended with Shannon. “I had loved performing ever since I was a little kid, doing plays at school and church. I’ve always been in love with stories and I think the idea that I could become a character in a story just completely enchanted me,” the actress recalls. “I did community theater for several years until I was discovered around age 15.” The transition to signing with an agency clearly paid off, as her first role came in the form of a little show called Stranger Things. “I remember that after I had sent in a couple of taped auditions, I came in to read for the directors. It was my first time at a studio and I was incredibly nervous.” She continues, “I got into the room, met the Duffer Brothers, and had to do that scene in the Upside Down where I’m running from the monster. So I’m in this tiny little room screaming at the top of my lungs in front of these two strangers. It was pretty nerve-racking and bizarre, but it turned out well.”
“The lack of female representation is pretty disturbing when you consider that we make up roughly half of the population.”
The heroes of the show are usually the frontliners, but barely three episodes of the show put Barb in the spotlight. Aside from an unironic sense of style that transcends the ‘80s, the brief but thorough relatability we saw in her was enough to make her a fan favorite. “I think Barb represents everyone who has ever felt awkward, misunderstood, lonely, and left out. I know I certainly felt that way at school sometimes. It’s been really encouraging and meaningful to hear that so many other people connected with her and wanted better for her.” Third episode’s the charm is a recurring theme for her roles as she steps into the dark town of Riverdale as Ethel Muggs, shaking things up in The CW hit with an empowering storyline that illustrates who really runs the show. “As much as I love acting, I love people even more and I get upset when I see injustice being done. Ethel’s story of being harassed and slut-shamed is all too common, unfortunately. It was really empowering for me to be able to shed light on a real problem and see some justice be served.”
“I think Barb represents everyone who has ever felt awkward, misunderstood, lonely, and left out.”
Switching gears from small to silver screen, the transition came smoothly for her. “I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but the transition from TV to film was actually fairly easy for me, which I’m thankful for. Sometimes, the schedule can be more intense for film, depending on the size of the part, but I’d like to think I’ve been handling it well.” Stepping up the horror game from her past experience, she’s set to star in Wish Upon alongside Joey King, Ki Hong Lee, and Sydney Park. “Wish Upon was probably one of the best first experiences I could’ve had. The cast and crew were incredible and I had an amazing time.” On to more mysterious things, her next project involves working with legend Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone in upcoming comedy Life of the Party. “The film is a comedy about a recently single mom who decides to back to college with her daughter,” she shares of the plot. “I play a character named Connie and I have a great scene with Melissa. Shooting with Ben and Melissa was one of the most fun experiences of my career so far.”
“Ethel’s story of being harassed and slut-shamed is all too common, unfortunately. It was really empowering for me to be able to shed light on a real problem.”
With a growing roster of projects that make waves in the scene, there’s a lot of room to explore for the 20-year-old, but there are a couple of milestones she’d like to reach with particular influences. “There are so many people in this industry that I’d like to work with. Wes Anderson, Sian Heder, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro, and so many others. In terms of actors, I really admire people like Viola Davis, Brie Larson, Jake Gyllenhaal, and James McAvoy.” But aside from future collaborations, another goal she has on the horizon is more representation in both both TV and film. “The industry is slowly improving but the lack of female representation is pretty disturbing when you consider that we make up roughly half of the population. I’ve seen some incredible work from female actors, directors, and writers, and I really want to see more. I would love to see more complex, deep, and strong female characters,” she shares. Being deeply enthralled on the topic of the LGBTQ community as openly identifying as bisexual, she continues, “I also think that minority representation is unacceptably low. I would love to see more ethnically diverse, POC, and LBGTQ characters and shorelines.” With an upcoming series entitled Rise on NBC written by Friday Night Lights and Parenthood creator Jason Katims and starring How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor and Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho, she brings to life a story of a small town theater putting together a controversial performances that changes their lives, starting this fall. Weighing the balances of both film and TV, Shannon’s talent has been measured, and we’ve been found wanting more.
By Janroe Cabiles
Interview by Therese Baluyot
Photographed by Marc Cartwright
Styled by Jordan Grossman
Hair and Makeup Blondie