Shannon Purser is one busy lady. When she’s not filming scene-stealing moments as Ethel Muggs on Riverdale (and yes, she’ll be back for season 2), accepting nominations for prestigious awards (she’s up for an outstanding guest actress in a drama series Emmy Award for her work as the beloved, bespectacled Barb on Netflix’s Stranger Things), or seeing her face plastered across T-shirts emblazoned with the #JusticeForBarb Twitter rallying cry, she’s filming indie movies and dreaming up her next big project. Luckily for us, the 20-year-old actress found a few minutes to chat ahead of Sunday’s Emmys red carpet and we got the scoop on Riverdale season 2, why she thinks people identified with Barb so deeply and which handsome actor made her starstruck AF.
How does it feel to be Barb and have so many people obsessed with her from a pop culture perspective?
It’s so strange. I had the most amazing time on set and was so thankful to even have the opportunity to be on the show, but I definitely never anticipated that people would really care about Barb, much less make her this phenomenon that she’s kind of become. It’s definitely all very surreal, but I’m so thankful for it.
How does it feel to see your face on T-shirts and memes?
I don’t know how to describe that, it’s just so much! People will send me pictures of T-shirts with my face on it and it’s nothing that I ever would’ve imagined in a million years as a kid.
In regards to the #JusticeforBarb movement, what do you think that says about people defending the underdog?
There’s definitely this relatability about Barb. She’s kind of awkward and misunderstood and lonely in high school, and I think we’ve all had that moment where we’re stuck at a party that we really didn’t want to be at, and then your friend leaves and you’re just by yourself and it’s a terrible situation that you don’t like. I think she just resonated with a lot of people and she reminded them of their high school experience. All of us weren’t the popular kids—some of us were just different or the third wheel.
— Daniela Saffran (@daniela55346287) September 3, 2017
I’d say in reality, it was more common to not be a popular kid than to be popular, right?
I would think so. It’s interesting how many people that I would think would have been the more popular kids back in high school have said they related to Barb and saw themselves in her.
I’m sure that even the most outgoing, popular people feel like the weirdo sometimes, even though we can’t see that. So, would you forgive Nancy for choosing a guy over you? Do you think people need to forgive Nancy for ditching Barb?
For sure it wasn’t a very good friend move, but I think had Barb made it, she would’ve forgiven Nancy. They’re teenagers in high school and sometimes teenagers make decisions because they want to feel liked or valued or popular, and if you continue to watch season 1, Nancy has this great character arch and she really becomes more independent and starts rethinking some of her priorities. So I definitely don’t hold anything against Nancy and I don’t think Barb would either.
What was your reaction when you found out about your Emmy nomination?
I was on a plane when they announced it. I was on my way to Vancouver for Riverdale and so the nominations had already been announced when I landed. I remember turning my phone on and all these notifications popped up and I had no idea what was happening. Then I got a phone call almost immediately after I landed and it was my manager and my publicist on the phone and they were literally crying, and I was like What’s happening? It was definitely one of the craziest moments of my life! I remember standing there in shock and wondering if it was some type of dream.
Did you have to start work on Riverdale that day? Did you have a moment to catch your breath or celebrate?
I think I had a fitting that day, so I landed and then I had to go into the fitting and people were congratulating me and I was like, I don’t really know what’s happening right now but thank you. But thankfully I didn’t have a long day of work that day so I got to relax for a bit and try to process… but I don’t think I’ve even processed it now!
What’s your plan for Emmy night? Who are you taking with you to the ceremony?
We’re working on what I’m wearing right now, which is really fun because I love to dress up, so I’m excited to see what we come up with. And then my mom has always made this running joke that if I ever get nominated for an Emmy that she wants to go with me, so I guess I will be taking her. [Laughs]
You mentioned Riverdale. What’s it like being on two of the most rabidly popular shows right now?
It’s so… I’m trying to think of the more positive adjectives than weird because weird sounds negative and obviously I’m thrilled. Once again, totally never would’ve ever imagined this. It’s always been important to me to do work that I’m proud of and be part of stories that I’m proud of, so being on a popular show was never really the goal. But I feel so incredibly lucky that the fans love those shows as much as I do. It’s so cool.
Ethel and Barb are both such awesome characters. Is Ethel going to be the new Barb?
Well, thank you! I was glad that I got to be a part of that storyline [on Riverdale wherein Ethel is slut-shamed] because it is a reality, unfortunately. To shed light on that and to show some of these girls getting justice for what’s been done to them was important. Unfortunately, a lot of people in real life don’t get justice after they’ve been assaulted or shamed or falsely accused of whatever, so there was something very satisfying about getting that kind of justice.
I read there will be around 22 episodes vs. 13 in season 1. What can you tell us about season 2 and what happens to Ethel Muggs?
I think we’re going to need it! Reading some of the script for season 2, there’s no way they would be able to tie it up in like 10 episodes. It’s going to be really intense and very cool. All I can say is that the mystery didn’t end with us finding out who Jason’s killer is. So buckle up, because season 2 is going to be intense and will probably shock people a lot.
Tell me about the films you’re working on.
The one that’s my pride and joy right now is called Sierra Burgess Is a Loser and I shot that earlier this year in L.A. It’s this coming of age movie that’s really charming and funny and awkward and authentic, so I’m excited for the whole world to see that. I think we’re going to get it into festivals and I’m really excited to hear what everyone thinks about it.
What would be a dream role for you in the future?
There’s this book that I love called Eleanor & Park. It’s an incredible story about these two misfit kids who fall in love. I’ve loved that book for years and I’d be so thrilled if I got to be in an adaptation of that.
Has there been any celebrity you’ve ever worked with or crossed paths with that you’ve been star struck around?
Yeah! I went to the SAG Awards last year and I saw Dev Patel nearby and I was with my publicist at the time and I was like, I really want to meet Dev Patel but I’m too awkward to go up and say anything to him, so she pulled him aside and say, Hey! Would you mind just taking a picture with my client Shannon? So we took a picture together and he’s just amazing and beautiful, so that was a good experience.
Was he just as handsome and delightful in real life as one would expect?
Yeah, absolutely, even more so I think!
OK, I have to ask you this: is there any chance that we’ll see Barb again on Stranger Things? People went crazy thinking there was a glimpse of her in the trailer that dropped at comic con.
Oh my gosh. Wow, really? [Laughs] No, in terms of season 2, I was not a part of filming so I think she might really, really be dead which is sad. Rest in peace. The Duffer brothers (the creators of the show) told me there’s going to be justice for Barb in season 2, so maybe she’ll come up at some point, though. That’d be cool.
I think as long as there hasn’t been justice for Barb, people are not going to forget about her anytime soon. Did you keep any of Barb’s costume?
No! I wanted to keep her glasses so bad, that was my number one thing that I wanted from set, but unfortunately I was not able to.
Right? I know. I might just have to find a pair like them.
Did you see any Barbs running around on Halloween last year? I know it was an extremely popular costume.
It is the weirdest thing to me. You never think about someone dressing up as you for Halloween. I didn’t see any in person but I did get a lot of tweets of people dressed up which was so cool and so strange.