EXCLUSIVE: 'Stranger Things' Star Shannon Purser on Internet's Obsession With Her Character Barb: 'Oh My Goodn
By Desiree Murphy
Photo: Anna Ritch/Instagram
WARNING! If you haven't binge-watched all eight episodes of Netflix's newest original '80s-influenced gloriousness that is Stranger Things, beware -- major spoilers ahead.
That's one of the most-used hashtags viewers of Stranger Things have tweeted while watching the supernatural thriller, which premiered on Netflix on July 15.
Barbara "Barb" Holland is the loyal, responsible, less-cool version of her best friend, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), who undeservingly gets sucked into the Upside Down dimension by a Demogorgon after cutting her hand open while shot gunning a beer at a party hosted by Nancy's love interest, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). Her death is shocking and unfair, and fans of the show have been demanding #JusticeForBarb ever since.
While Barb only has a handful of lines in her brief stint on the show, she is undoubtedly one of the series' most beloved characters and has quickly become a cult icon. The face behind the girl with the ruffled shirts, high-waisted mom jeans and oversized glasses is 19-year-old Shannon Purser, an Atlanta, Georgia, native who is soaking in all the excitement surrounding her first-ever TV role.
Purser spoke with ET on Tuesday about the incredible response her character has received, what it was like breaking into the acting biz and her favorite onscreen moments.
ET: Let's talk about all things Barb -- how amazing is it to see all the reactions from fans on social media?
Shannon Purser: The fan response has been absolutely incredible! This was my first acting credit, so I didn't really know what to expect. I loved the character from the very beginning, and I was really excited to play her.
I had such a good time filming, [but] I didn't really think people would think too much of the part. A few days after [the show] aired, it was incredible. This response started to flood in, and it's been amazing. I wasn't expecting it but I'm super thankful.
It's absolutely been crazy. I think the rap tribute was my favorite so far -- it was hilarious, oh my gosh! I started watching it and I'm like, "Oh this so cute. They're rapping about the show," and then they started talking about Barb -- it was so weird. It's actually still stuck in my head, it's so catchy.
I just recently saw the candlelit vigil for Barb on Facebook, and I think there is something like 1,000 RSVPs already, which completely blows my mind. I kind of relate to it because I'm kind of like the dorky person who would, if I like a show or movie, I'll draw something from it -- I really encourage creativity. I think that good TV and good art kind of create new good art, so it's been awesome to see all the creative responses to this show.
For the vigil, I really hope someone sends me pictures of the people who were there so I can be like, 'Aww, solidarity!'
I've noticed a lot of celebrities have been tuning in as well -- Hilary Duff, Shawn Mendes, Jamie Chung, etc. Who were you most surprised to learn was watching it?
I'm a big film and book nerd, so definitely the fact that Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro were tweeting about it. I love Guillermo's films and Stephen King is Stephen King, so I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is incredible."
And then I remember one big [one] was Aaron Paul. I love him -- Breaking Bad, he's so good, and so to hear that he was watching this show, I was just like, "Oh my goodness, what is happening?"
Barb is so relatable, and I think that's why so many people have fallen in love with her. In your opinion, why do you think viewers are so obsessed?
I think Barb kind of appeals to everyone. I think everybody kind of has a little bit of insecurity, or wondering if they're good enough or cool enough. Even the people that we think are traditionally beautiful or popular -- I think it's just a natural tendency for everybody to have some insecurity.
Barb is confident, which is what I loved about her. She knows who she is, she doesn't care who she impresses -- but yeah, we've all been the friend who's kind of left alone or left out. I think everybody really sort of sympathized with her because they saw themselves in her.
Any Barb moments of your own you can share?
Growing up, I always spent more time reading and [being] in my head than I did socializing. I was very used to the feeling of, when I was younger, kind of being more introspective and not really feeling like I particularly fit in anywhere. I've really come into my own since then, but definitely playing Barb, I remembered those moments in middle school where you kind of feel like you're the one that's a little bit behind everyone else.
Some people are calling Barb a style icon. How do you feel about that?
It's amazing. I mean, honestly she kind of is. High-waisted pants are totally back in now -- who doesn't love a good mom jean? Now that I'm looking back on the show, I really wish I had a pair of [Barb's glasses.] I don't need them, but I would totally just wear them for fun.
She has some very quotable lines in the series. Do you have a particular favorite?
One of my favorite moments is when she is talking to Nancy [about Steve] in the hallway, because we've all been that friend where you're like, "So, what's the deal? Is that boy calling you? What's going on there?" And telling her not to take herself so seriously that much -- I really liked the communication and the way they got along together, just being a gossipy teenager. It's fun.
While we're on the topic of Nancy, are you Team Steve or Team Jonathan (Charlie Heaton)?
This is really difficult. It's so hard because after watching the show, one of my favorite things is that all of the characters kind of defy the stereotypes that they seem to fit into in the beginning. I don't know if I really can choose between them because they both develop so much as characters that at different points I'd be like, "Nah, not a huge fan," and then another time I'm like, "Wow, this is adorable. He's so cute." I'm kind of rooting for them both, honestly. May the best man win!
Unfortunately, Barb majorly fails at shot gunning a beer at Steve's intimate gathering. How would you rate your shot gunning skills in real life?
I'm a super nerd, so I have never actually even attempted it, ever. So I don't know! I'd like to think that maybe I'd be a little bit better than Barb…
So many fans are wondering, why did Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) survive, but not Barb? Do you have any theories?
I guess my take on it is that Will kind of had a hiding place for most of it, so he was sort of able to stay out of the monster's way, whereas Barb just got snatched and there wasn't much time for her. We'll have to see! But [the showrunners] the Duffer Brothers are super creative and thoughtful, I'm sure they have a reason for everything they've done.
Let's backtrack to your life pre-Stranger Things. How did you get into acting, and what made you decide to audition for this role?
I had a lot of, I think especially when you're young, people are like, "I want to be an astronaut" and then the next week they want to be a ballerina or a scientist. I had a lot of phases, for sure, but once I started getting more into theater when I was younger, I just really realized that I loved it -- this was maybe when I was 11 or 12, I just knew that this is what I wanted.
So, I did a lot of theater and I got discovered when I was 14 or 15. I joined an agency and started auditioning, like many actresses do.
One day, I got an email from an agent saying, "Oh, there's a show called Stranger Things, here are the sides you should read for the part." I did that and I loved the character, and I loved the dialogue, and I'm like, "Wow, Barb is kind of me. This is perfect."
I felt really good about it. You send [the audition tape] in and you just hope for the best. They emailed me again, and I did another tape and I was like, "Wow. This looks great!" Then they emailed me again and wanted me to come in and read for the directors. I think that was when it hit me that this could actually happen, that this could be the real thing.
This has been such an amazing feat for you -- what do your friends and family think of all of this?
They're so excited. I think in some ways they geek out about it more than I do! When the show premiered, my friends would send me Snapchats, texting me about the show, live tweeting it. They love it. They want to hear everything about it, and of course I want to talk about it because this is my first role, and to have it with such an incredible cast and crew, it's extremely rare and I'm just super thankful. It's been great. My parents especially, I think they've watched through the series four or five times. They binge-watch it like every day.
Moving forward as an actress, what role would you love to portray next?
There is this book I really love called Eleanor & Park [by Rainbow Rowell] that has been in the works to be made into a movie. I know Dreamworks picked up the rights, and then gave them back to the author, so nothing is really in [production] right now. But Eleanor, the lead in that book, looks pretty much exactly like me, and I love that story to death. I think she is on the top of my list of roles that I'd like to play.