In a world full of pressure to be perfect, Shannon Purser is breaking out and becoming perfectly herself. With such kindness and poise mixed with the needed boldness of the entertainment business, she is taking over. You may recognize her from Stranger Things and Riverdale, and later this year, catch her as a lead in the upcoming Netflix film Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. Purser shares her experiences battling depression and embracing her sexuality in our Summer 2018 issue

Your character in Stranger Things, Barbara, is highly outspoken. Does this reflect you at all? Or has it encouraged you to speak out a little more?
She’s definitely not afraid to voice her feelings. I tend to be a bit more introverted in that sense. As I’ve grown as a person, I’ve developed more of that confidence.

I’m a little less familiar with your role in Riverdale. Can you give us a little insight about Ethel?
Ethel comes onto the scene as a bunch of the boys have written down their sexual conquests in a playbook. Ethel has been victimized in a sense and wants to fight back. It’s really how we get to know her. She’s smart, a good girl, quiet, and shy. As the season develops, we see she has a dark backstory with her dad and financial troubles. We see that whole backstory and how it affects her life. In season two, she has an arc where she becomes a much more outspoken character, which is interesting to watch.  

Do you identify with Ethel at all?
In some senses, yeah. I’ve always been a bookworm and made a point to be kind to everybody. I think in season two is really where she finds her voice, maybe less kind than usual. She just has a passion for justice, which I do too.

In Stranger Things, you obviously have a group of younger co-stars. Are there any differences in pressures from outside forces you see being put on them than might be on you?
Absolutely. Just because of the nature of the show and them being the main focus, their popularity has just skyrocketed. I think they are doing pretty well. They have good heads on their shoulders. They seem to be much more mature and knowledgeable than I was at that age. Now as they grow older, I know there are pressures from fans to always be performing even when not at work. While I can’t imagine that kind of attention at that age, they are handling it very well.

I think putting an emphasis on collaboration instead of competition is so important…

Obviously, one of the costars is the lovely Millie Bobby Brown. How can women specifically help each other out when other women might be pressured or put down?
I think it’s so vitally important women take care of each other because not many people are taking care of us in this industry. I think there’s pressure between women to be so competitive, and they feel like they have to work twice as hard to get where they want to go. I think putting an emphasis on collaboration instead of competition is so important, especially with these young actresses. When I work with them, I hope it’s known they can come to me when they need me.  

Let’s talk about a huge shining moment for you! What can you tell us about Sierra Burgess Is a Loser and your role in it?
I’m so excited about it! I shot it last January or February. It’s my first time leading a movie, which is terrifying but exciting. It’s a sweet, coming-of-age story in the style of Pretty in Pink and about this girl who is kind of strange falling in love with this boy. It’s a case of mistaken identity, and it’s sweet, funny, and romantic.  

What kind of relatable elements will young adults be able to find in the movie?
I think the whole high school experience. There’s a whole scene where she is talking to her guidance counselor about the requirements for college and being overwhelmed to be unique and different from everyone else. One of my favorite things is the dynamic between her best friends. They are just so real and goofy with each other and reminds me of being back in highschool. There’s a lot to be said about being honest and accepting yourself.

Looking even further into the future, what are some goals you have for yourself?
When you are acting, it can be this game of hurrying up. You are either busy working on everything or you have this downtime. I think I want to tap more into my creative side. I have always loved writing and might want to create more original content in terms of script writing. I think the goal, also, is to just keep working and finding projects I care about, loving what I do.

I see you’re an active and open part of the LGBTQ community! Were you nervous at all about being open about it?
There were definitely some anxieties, especially having my own struggles with it. Coming to terms with your sexuality and being open about it can be hard. I lived in an area where it wasn’t really discussed. It was definitely scary, and with the times we live in now, there’s a pressure to stay silent in your own safety. It’s heartbreaking. I feel lucky I can be honest without serious ramifications.

What do you wish you could go back and say to your younger self?
There were a lot of times when I was young where I just felt super stuck and like my dream wasn’t going to come true. You have so many people telling you it’s going to be hard and how such a small amount of people actually make it. I would tell her something good is coming and not to worry so much.

 

STORY ELIZABETH STAFFORD
PHOTOS STORM SANTOS
HAIR & MAKEUP BLONDIE for EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS using TARTE COSMETICS for MAKEUP and L’ORÉAL for HAIR
STYLING GABRIEL LANGENBRUNNER

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