photo: Instagram

Talking to Shannon Purser feels a lot like what talking to Barb Holland, her beautifully bookish character on Netflix's "Stranger Things," must be like. 

Both young women are relatable, empathetic, and remarkably self-possessed. In her phone interview with Revelist, it was easy to imagine Purser, much like her onscreen persona, doling out life advice and good-naturedly calling you on your bullshit (a la "Is that a new bra?").  

It's a comparison the 19-year-old, Georgia-native actress embraces. After all, it's not exactly an unfavorable one. In the last few weeks since the Duffer Brothers' show debuted, Barb has become something of a cultural phenomenon, inspiring everything from spin-off theories, to murals, to thematic pizza slices (seriously), a fact Purser finds "completely surreal." A quick Twitter search of #WeAreAllBarb, and it's clear — people just can't get enough of this character, despite how briefly she's actually seen on the show. 

Purser, who describes herself as "very much a Barb in real life," spoke to us about what makes Barb — her first-ever onscreen role — so deeply relatable to so many people

One of the main reasons behind viewers' Barb-mania, in Purser's opinion, is that people love how "unapologetic" she is about being herself.

A photo posted by @strangerthingstv on

"I think why people connect to her so much is she’s so real and she’s very unapologetic about who she is and what she likes to wear and the choices that she makes," Purser told Revelist. 

Dressed in unintentionally cool mom jeans and rolling her eyes at the popular kids' antics, Barb never feigns to be anything other than her completely genuine self — something not so commonly found in high school. She's casually nonconformist and levelheaded at a time when most of her peers are ruled by hormones and a desperate desire to "fit in," and a lot of people see themselves in that, Purser says. 

"People can relate to sort of being the 'mom' of their friend group, or feeling a little bit lower or less popular in their social circle," Purser explained. "It’s great to see how people connect with her because I know I’ve certainly personally felt that way before."

Purser also values what an amazing good friend Barb is and "loves the dynamic" between her and Nancy (played by fellow newcomer Natalia Dyer) — an admittedly unpopular opinion, given the way Steve's party unfolded. Purser, though, rushes to defend Nancy from viewers' criticisms, again proving how VERY Barb like she truly is.

photo: Netflix

Many female "Stranger Things" fans can relate to Barb on the level of feeling forsaken by a close friend in favor of a love interest. As Purser says, "I think people got kind of irked with Nancy because almost everybody has been put in that kind of position themselves where they feel left behind, or that suddenly their friendship is not as important as whoever their best friend is dating."

Her take on the situation is empathetic, though.

"I think the important thing to remember with Nance and Barb is they’re both teenage girls," Purser said. "It’s really easy to look at their friendship and think about what we would do differently and that sort of thing. I think everybody as a teenager is at least a little bit self-absorbed, even if they don’t mean it in a mean way. It’s easy to get caught up in your self-interest." 

She even had some pretty glowing things to say about Nancy (because BARB):

"I think Nancy really comes into her own by the end of the season. I think she really grows up and sees people for what they are and becomes more independent, so I loved the way her character developed."

Barb's sartorial choices have also drawn praise, and it turns out Purser (who picked out her costumes with her mom's help) is a huge fan not only of '80s fashion, but of the era in general.

photo: Netflix

Purser, a self-described "movie nerd" (she worked at a movie theater until recently) says film is one of the best things to come from the era, citing Steven Spielberg as a favorite. Which is especially fitting, given his work was a main source of inspiration for the Duffer Brothers when creating "Stranger Things." 

The show's soundtrack, too, was a highlight for her, as she grew up listening to '80s music with her dad. The use of Toto's "Africa," a song she says she listens to "pretty much daily" on Spotify, was a special delight.

"When we were shooting it, we didn’t know what songs they were going to pick, so watching the whole series for the first time I was like, 'Oh my gosh! I’m so glad they picked this song!" she said. 

She can't confirm whether "Stranger Things" will have a second season but is "definitely hoping so." In the meantime, she's auditioning for new roles and would love to one day play another unlikely heroine...

A huge comics (and cosplay) fan, Purser dreams of joining the Marvel universe one day, and she already has her ideal role already picked out — Squirrel Girl. 

"I think Squirrel Girl is just adorable but at the same time is totally boss and completely awesome. I think people need a character like that," Purser said. "It's easy in the superhero realm to feel like a lot of the female superheroes we see are grown women who are super responsible and know what their purpose is and that kind of thing. Squirrel Girl is a little bit younger and like a real person, trying to figure out her life and then also having to save the world. I love that." 

Another character she describes as a "dream role" is Eleanor from Rainbow Rowell's 2013 novel, "Eleanor & Park." 

"I have rarely been as sure about anything as I am that I was meant to play Eleanor," she said. Rowell, it seems, agrees, recently tweeting, "I feel overly protective of Barb on Stranger Things because when I first saw her, I shouted, 'Eleanor!'" 

Back in 2014, DreamWorks bought the movie rights to this beloved young adult novel, but it's yet to be officially cast. Rowell, though, has said she doesn't want established Hollywood actors in the film adaptation and would prefer unknown actors — meaning it seems entirely feasible Purser could become our cinematic "Big Red." 

The recent high school grad also just registered for online college classes so as not to neglect academia (BECAUSE BARB), but says acting is the passion she'll continue to pursue.

"(The show) has really just been an absolutely amazing experience and I’ve loved it so much," she said. "Acting was always something I knew I wanted to do, and now that I’ve done it and experienced it, it’s really a confirmation this is definitely what I want to do for as long as possible. I’m definitely still pursuing it and I’m looking forward to new opportunities."