Interview: Shannon Purser talks Stranger Things, Riverdale and Wish Upon
Matthew Turner | On 28, Jul 2017
This weekend sees Barb return to our screens, sort of, as Shannon Purser stars in Wish Upon, a new supernatural horror set in a high school. The film is out in cinemas this weekend, hot on the heels of Comic-Con, where Purser joined the stars of Stranger Things for a panel with fans eager for details on Season 2. The actress shot to unlikely fandom as Barb in Netflix’s sci-fi series, even picking up an Emmy nomination for her supporting performance. We sit down with her to chat horror, Netflix, Riverdale and what it’s like to be Barb.
What attracted you to Wish Upon, first of all?
Well, I’ve always really loved scary movies. I think there’s something really great about being able to be scared and on the edge of your seat, but, you know, in the safety of your own home or a theatre. And I also knew about [director] John Leonetti, I’ve been a big fan of his work for quite a while – his DP work on The Conjuring and directing Annabelle, so it was really kind of a no-brainer, to be a part of this cool world that he had shown to me.
So you’re quite a horror fan?
Yes, I love it.
Do you have any particular favourite horror movies you’ve seen recently?
Well, I just saw Alien for the first time the other day. I guess that’s technically more of a sci-fi than a horror movie, but I was scared and I thought it was it was great. It’s such a pioneer in the industry.
How was it filming with co-stars Joey [King] and Sydney [Park]? You had quite the onscreen rapport going.
It was so much fun. It was so cool to get to work with people my age and they’re both hilarious, so we just laughed the whole time and had a great time kind of goofing around on set together.
Did the director encourage you to hang out beforehand, to build that friendship?
We didn’t really hang out beforehand, but it’s really funny, though, how quickly we all became close in such a short amount of time. We all have pretty similar personalities and senses of humour, so the friendship felt very real to me, and I’m sure to them too.
Had Joey and Sidney seen Stranger Things by the time you shot this?
Yes, I believe so. But it was really funny, because I knew who both of them were, and I mean, Stranger Things was my first role, so even though I was known for Barb, I was still kind of a nobody in some sense. So it was really sort of shocking to me when I met them and they knew who I was and were already a fan of my work, so that was really cool.
They didn’t nickname you Barb on set?
No, thankfully! Although I have had people working on sets just refer to me as Barb before…
How do you feel about that?
I mean, I get it. I answer to Barb sometimes, to be honest. But I do have a name, so if you want to remember that, that would be cool too.
What’s your perspective on the whole Barb thing now, a year and a bit later? Do people recognise you on the street for it?
They do, yeah. It was really quite a shock for me, because I had so much fun on set, and playing Barb, I really put my heart and soul into her, but I never would have expected the kind of attention that she got. So, when all these tweets start flooding in, and all these people start talking to me, and they’re upset, you know, they want to know if Barb’s going to be okay. And it was really, I mean, so unexpected. And she just took off and became this almost iconic figure, which has been so great, and and I’m obviously so thankful to the fans, because their support has really gotten me very far in my career already. I’m very, very thankful for that.
What’s been the best and the worst post-Barb experience for you, so far?
That’s really difficult. I’ve had so many amazing moments. I did get to star in my first film earlier this year, called Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, and that was so amazing, to know that the film was kind of riding on my performance and to be so grateful to the team behind it, and the director for picking. It was a lot of responsibility, but it was so great to be able to really dig into a character and put in a lot of work.
What about the worst?
I mean, it’s weird because the Internet is a beautiful place and it’s a terrible place. So I’ve had a lot of very positive fans and I’ve gotten some heat too, but I think anybody in the public eye does, and you kind of learn to shake it off.
When you go onto a show like Stranger Things, and the show is going to obviously take off and be a big thing, do they give you any kind of training in that regard? Like, do they sit you down and say to you, look, we’re going to warn you, this could make you pretty big on the Internet.
It’s interesting, because they didn’t, really, until people started talking about Barb and that kind of took off – then I got a little bit of PR training.
Were you sad not to be in Season 2?
Yeah, I was a bit sad. I had such a great time, and obviously the whole world knows how special the show is and it was such a cool universe to be a part of – it’s a show that I would have absolutely adored, even if I hadn’t been a part of it, so it would have been great to be a part of Season 2, but I’m really quite happy – I’ve gotten a lot of amazing work and gotten to be a part of these other incredible stories since then. You know, I trust the Duffer brothers and their vision and I’m sure Season 2’s going to be great.
Do they keep you in the loop? Do you have friends on set that tell you what’s going to happen? Or do you not want to know, and find out when it comes out?
I definitely want to be surprised. I’ve heard little bits and pieces, but not a whole lot, and I kind of want it that way. I’m really excited to see what happens.
Your character in Wish Upon is very much against the Magic Wish Box. Did you have discussions on set, between the three of you, about whether you would use it, what you’d wish for, that kind of thing?
It’s been talked about, yeah. I mean, I know that I couldn’t do it. If it was just a Wish Box that gave me seven wishes, and that was it, then sure, I would make them and it would be great, but as you see in the movie, all these wishes come with a very, very terrible price and I don’t think that I could do it.
Not even if it was just a dog?
Noooo, I love dogs! (laughs)
What if you could have one wish with no consequence?
If I could have one wish with no consequence, it would probably be to be part of an Oscar-winning movie. That would be amazing.
Of course, not content to be in one cult TV show, you’re also Ethel in Riverdale. What’s your perspective on the general reaction to that?
It’s really cool. I think that people were a bit confused by it at first – they only know of the Archie comics, which are these very wholesome, little funny comics, and to see it become this dark, sexy sort of thing, people were pretty surprised. But they got attached to it very quickly and it’s really developed a very big fanbase.
They’ve really got the tone right, I think…
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s very addicting [sic].
Why do you think it’s been such a success?
I’m trying to think – I mean, obviously there are a lot of very attractive people in the cast, so that always helps. But I think just the story-telling, it explores all these really complicated relationships that are very fascinating, and all these characters are so well developed and unique, that I think people can find at least one person that they relate to. And everybody loves a good mystery, also, everybody wants to know what’s going on.
Had you read the comics at all? Have you read them since, the old ones or the new ones?
I read a little bit of them. I would love to read some of the newer ones – I’ve heard that they’re pretty great. But no, I didn’t know too much about the Archie world before I got involved with the project.
Are you back for Season 2 of Riverdale? Can you tell us anything about it?
I really don’t know too much about Season 2 yet. I know that the rest of the cast is pretty much already up there and have started filming and that I’ll be joining them very soon.
That’s great news! Are you a big Netflix and Amazon fan?
Oh, absolutely. It’s probably unhealthy.
What have you enjoyed on Netflix recently? What’s your main binge-watch at the moment
I’m actually going to look at my app right now, to see what’s really been it lately. I’m really big into horror movies, so I’ve been browsing around, trying to find some good ones. But I also really love Black Mirror – that’s so, so good. So I watched that pretty quickly and I’m hoping that there will be another season.
What was your favourite moment in filming Wish Upon?
Hmmm. Hard to say. It was all a blast. Sidney and Joey are just hilarious, wild, funny people and we always had the best time hanging out together. I think that was really it – there wasn’t really one particular moment. I think it was just so refreshing to be able to work with other people my age and to get to joke around and have a good time together.
You have that scene in the movie where you’re kind of enraptured with Ryan Phillippe. How difficult was that for you to do?
(Laughs) I mean, he’s VERY cute! He’s obviously an attractive man. He’s very sweet, I just think that, in real life, if I meet somebody that I’m into, I’m a little more subtle than that (laughs). But he’s a very sweet man, and very talented and we all had a lot of fun together, joking around with him.
And what’s your next project?
My next project is Rise, which is a pilot that I did that just got picked up by NBC, and that will continue filming later this year.
Wish Upon is out now in UK cinemas and will be released on DVD and VOD later this year.
Photo: Steve Wilkie / Broad Green Pictures