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.
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.
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.
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.