Shannon Purser is the first person to admit that her role as Barb in Stranger Things, which also happened to be her first job, consisted of minimal dialogue (and even screen time). But that hasn’t stopped the 20-year-old actress, who was born in and is still based in Atlanta, from becoming a cult phenomenon alongside her lovably mousy character—so much so that she was even nominated for an Emmy this week, in the Guest Actress category alongside the likes of Ann Dowd and Laverne Cox.
Purser hasn’t celebrated much herself—”I don’t really do interesting stuff, anyway—I like to take hot baths and eat food,” she said on a recent afternoon—but her fans definitely have for her. This week, at San Diego Comic Con, a shrine was erected for Barb that’s so thorough, it’s even taken Purser, who’s getting used to “being a meme,” by surprise. “I don’t really know how that whole thing happened, because those are actually all my baby pictures in it,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a little sketchy, but it’s fine.”
The shrine is—spoiler alert—also something of a memorial, given that Barb is “very, very dead, unfortunately.” (Though Purser did leave things a bit open by saying she’s “not really” in season two.) In any case, Purser has been keeping very, very busy filming Riverdale, plus films like Life of the Party, which Melissa McCarthy reached out to her for personally. She talks what else she’s been up to, including watching Twin Peaks and dreaming about more tattoos, in her culture diet, here.
Congrats on the Emmy nomination. Did you have any idea it was coming? It’s crazy, and I definitely did not expect it. After seeing the crazy success Stranger Things had, I was pretty positive the show was going to get quite a few nominations, but I definitely didn’t think that I would. And looking at all the other actresses I’m nominated alongside, it’s kind of daunting, though obviously an honor, for sure. I figure I must have done something right, I guess, to be where I am now, but still in a lot of ways, it’s really overwhelming to get nominated for your first job and with the short amount of screen time. So it’s been really great to see that most of the reactions to my nominations have been really positive.
Where were you when you found out? I was on my way to Vancouver to do season two of Riverdale, and we had a layover in Salt Lake City. They had announced all the nominees while I was on the plane, and I turned on my phone when we landed and it just started blowing up. My manager and publicist were on the phone right away, both crying. It was crazy and so surreal, I can’t even really believe it now.
Did you start crying, too? It didn’t hit me for a while, but that night I just full-out started sobbing. [Laughs.] But it was so funny, because right after I got off the plane and I was hyperventilating and just shaking in the airport and had no idea what to do, this woman walked by with a couple of therapy dogs, and I was like, This is exactly what I need right now. So I just pet them, and it was great.
Moving on to what else you’ve been up to recently, what’s the first thing you usually read in the morning? Probably Twitter. I love Twitter.
Do you read your mentions? Most of the time, yes. When I’m scared that people will be mean, then no. But everybody is pretty much really positive and kind.
What books are on your bedside table right now? Eleanor & Park [by Rainbow Rowell] is like my favorite book of all time, and I’ve read it several times, but I just bought another copy and I’m reading it again. It’s definitely my no. 1.
What are the TV shows that have been keeping you up at night? I’m watching Twin Peaks, the original, since everyone was talking about watching the reboot and I didn’t know what was going on. I’m on season two right now, and it’s absolutely crazy, but I love it. I love Kyle MacLachlan’s character, because he’s like a puppy. I used to really like Donna, but now she’s acting sketchy. [Laughs.]
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters? The Big Sick, which I loved.
What’s the last thing you saw at the theater? I saw A Winter’s Tale at a Shakespeare festival, and it was wonderful.
What’s the last piece of art you bought, or ogled? I usually scroll through the Explore page on Instagram, and because I like a lot of artists, I’ll see random stuff. I’m really obsessed with tattoos, and there’s this amazing tattoo artist that I follow that I really like named Jenna Kerr.
Do you have any tattoos? I do, several. It’s an addiction, and it’s sad. [Laughs.] But I mean, I’m careful where I put them and stuff. The tattoos I have right now are on my back, so nobody can really see them. My favorite is one that says “Kyrie, Eleison,” which is a Greek phrase that means “Lord have mercy”—and also the title of this song from the ’80s by Mister Mister that my dad is totally obsessed with, so it reminds me of him.
What’s the last museum exhibition that you loved? When I was in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, I saw the Van Gogh exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, which was really cool. He’s one of my favorite artists, for sure.
What release are you most eagerly anticipating? I just worked on an animated show called Final Space that is super funny and quirky and weird, so I’m really excited for the world to see that. [The cast] is insane—I got there and I read the cast list and was like, Fred Armisen and David Tennant are in this show? I was freaking out. I recorded by myself, but hopefully one day I’ll get to meet them and tell them how much I love them.
What’s the last song you had on repeat? I’ve been super into “Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen lately, which is funny because I’m super into alternative indie stuff. But that song just makes me happy.
What’s the last concert you went to? I went to Muse slash 30 Seconds to Mars a couple of months ago, which was great because I’ve been listening to Muse since, like, middle school, and I’m obsessed. And [Jared Leto] is definitely quite a performer. He’s quite the man. [Laughs.] Muse is definitely my favorite, though.
How do you get your news? Usually through Twitter, to be honest, though I do sometimes watch CNN.
What are your favorite accounts to follow on there, and on Instagram? On Twitter, I like Jonny Sun a lot. I follow Netflix, just to see what’s going on, and Marvel. There’s this comic that I really like called the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and I follow everybody who’s involved with that, because I love it so much. On Instagram, I’m obsessed with cute little animals. There’s this one account, @JuniperFoxx, which is this woman who owns a fox, and it’s so cute. She does little videos of it every day, and I love watching them. Otherwise, I usually keep my Instagram fairly personal, so it’s a lot of my close friends that I follow.
Do you read your horoscope? I do, actually. I don’t know how much stock I put in it, but I think it’s interesting and fun. I’m a Cancer.
Last thing: what’s the last thing you do before you go to bed? Usually I’m up late watching something on Netflix. Or I try to listen to music.
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