'Definitely a Barb': a Q&A with Shannon Purser of "Stranger Things" | Rock Candy

'Definitely a Barb': a Q&A with Shannon Purser of "Stranger Things"

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PURSER: As Barb in 'Stranger Things.'
  • PURSER: As Barb in 'Stranger Things.'


Although Barb only appeared in four episodes of the breakout Netflix series “Stranger Things,” the role catapulted first-time TV actress Shannon Purser into immediate stardom, with memes, hashtags and GIFs proliferating the internet. Despite her sudden demise in the nostalgia-fueled ‘80s sci-fi drama as the nerdy best friend to the in-demand and stereotypically beautiful lead Nancy (here’s where I admit I couldn’t remember her name and had to Google it), the character of Barb resonates with fans and critics alike, even landing Purser an Emmy nomination. Ahead of Purser’s appearance at the Hot Springs Spa-Con Sept. 23, we find out what it’s like to be thrust violently into the spotlight and why she believes she’s “definitely a Barb.”


When did you find out you got the part of Barb? Describe the setting, how you felt, what went through your mind.

It was actually the same day I'd gone in and auditioned in person for ["Stranger Things" creators] the Duffer brothers. I was seeing a movie with my mom and I believe we were the only two people in the theater. I'd been obsessively checking my email since the audition, and then I received one that said I'd gotten the part. I legitimately believed I was in a dream for a few days.

So, the Barb phenomenon, wow. GIFs, memes, even tattoos ... what has this all been like for you? What have been some of the more surreal fan moments that have come out of all of this?

I guess I had a feeling that the show would do well, but I absolutely never expected my character to receive any attention. When the internet rallied for Barb, I was so shocked. It feels so surreal. I'm so thankful to the fans. They encourage me all the time. It's been a whirlwind.

In a “Glamour” interview from 2016 you're quoted saying that you're "definitely a Barb ... totally dorky and weird" and that you don't have a problem with that. I'd love to hear more about how you related to the character.

I was absolutely the weird kid in elementary and middle school and I wasn't very popular. I kept to myself mostly and was constantly reading. I had some emotional issues and didn't relate to others well. However, I had one or two very close friends, and I've definitely seen them become more popular or leave me behind. I know they weren't being malicious about it, but I know how bad it hurts. It feels like betrayal when you're young. So I've definitely been a Barb.

What has it felt like to be thrust so quickly into stardom and have so much resonance with fans over what was supposed to be a minor character in “Stranger Things” but turned out to be many folks' favorite?

I don't really know how to describe it and I guess that's because I still haven't really been able to process all this. Whenever I think about the total transformation my life has undergone, my mind explodes. So I kind of have to keep rolling with it, for my own sanity. Being an actor has been my dream for so long. I'm so thankful that there are people out there who enjoy my work and who are rooting for me.

What was the most challenging aspect of playing Barb? Easiest? What was the transition from stage acting to screen acting like for you?

I guess the hardest part was not letting my anxiety get in the way of acting. I've been dealing with OCD and anxiety for several years and, while it's sometimes an advantage to be an overthinker, it also made me feel very nervous and insecure in my abilities when I didn't get things perfectly right as soon as I wanted. I like to think I'm much more confident now, but I definitely appreciate the crew for being so welcoming and encouraging. The rest came a lot more easily to me than I'd expected, which makes me think that maybe this is what I'm meant to be doing.

When you attend conventions what do you enjoy and what has it been like to connect with fans?

I love conventions! I'm a big nerd myself and a member of several fandoms, so it's kind of like being reunited with my tribe. I love chatting with the fans and meeting the other guests and just sightseeing!


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