As I walk into the room to meet Shannon Purser, otherwise known as Barb from Netflix’s Stranger Things, I’m instantly transported into the Eighties world of the cult show.
It is staged as Joyce’s living room and Purser is sitting on an orange, velvet sofa beneath a wall painted with the alphabet and strung with multi-coloured Christmas lights, just like the “real thing”.
Purser is incredibly down-to-earth and self-composed which, at just 20 years old and in the midst of an extremely rapid rise to fame, is no small feat.
And the actor got her big break with a mere six and half minutes of screen time on Stranger Things, so naturally I’m keen find out the secrets to her success.
At first, Purser puts it down to the character that she played, explaining that Barb is so popular simply because people can identify with her.
“People like to root for the underdog because most of us weren’t the super-hot popular cheerleader in high school, we were kind of awkward and going through puberty and we were uncomfortable and had braces,” she says. “I think Barb is kind of like the patron saint of all the misfits.”
But, while she’s not wrong, it’s clear there’s more to it.
“I had never gotten a professional job before [Stranger Things]. I’d been auditioning for several years and nothing had really come from it so this was really my shot,” she continues, describing how when the opportunity arose, she knew she had to throw everything she had into it.
“I had no idea Stranger Things would be what it was,” she adds. “I had no idea that anybody would notice Barb the way they did but [I thought] ‘I might not get another job for months or even years after this, and this is what I want to do, so if I have this opportunity I don’t care if I have six minutes, I’m going to put my heart and soul into it’.”
Purser’s ambition and determination is evident – and I get the sense she won’t be stopping any time soon. Discussing the recent movement of female empowerment that has emerged in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, she offers her thoughts on the changes that she wants to see happen in the industry.
“I certainly hope that we will get more women in power, when it comes to executives and producers and directors, because the problem is not a shortage of females who are qualified to do the job. It’s just that women are not favoured or chosen.
Purser continues to lay down the foundations that are required, in Hollywood and beyond, to enable women across the globe to succeed.
“I think education is everything because women are already held to such a high standard, even higher than men, and unfortunately you have to get ahead to be able to compete which requires a lot of dedication, a lot of sacrifice and also courage.
“As we’re seeing in Hollywood with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, [with] women being brave enough to speak up about their experiences, I think men take advantage of the idea that women will remain silent. We can’t do that anymore.”
And while she admits that she’s been too busy to binge-watch anything herself recently, she has become hooked on Netflix’s new show Mindhunter (set in the 1970s, it’s about two FBI agents who expand criminal science by delving into the psychology of murder and getting uneasily close to all-too-real monsters). Purser usually watches shows here and there on her phone while travelling or on set, but confesses that, just like the rest of us, she loves a good Netflix and actual chill.
“If I do have proper time and space, then my basement at home has this huge couch where you can spread out,” she says. “I grab a blanket and get in my sweatpants - it’s great.”
And when she’s not in sweatpants or in costume for her latest project, Purser’s taking style notes from her shows, most notably Stranger Things.
“The Eighties were so unique, a lot of the fashion styles were very over the top and kind of cheesy,” she says. “But some of it was really cool and I think it’s coming back, with puffer coats and mom jeans and so on, so I really enjoy it. Looking back on my wardrobe from Stranger Things, I would probably wear a lot of it. I might style it a little bit differently but I like the pieces.
“I think I’ve become a lot more open minded when it comes to fashion recently.”
That said, there’s one thing that Purser’s convinced should be left well alone.
“I don’t think perms were a really good look,” she quips. “Love yourself, love your hair as it is.”
Beyond fashion, Purser expresses herself with another passion of hers – tattoos. Having recently got her third inking, she is torn between her desire to add to her collection while also being conscious of the practicalities of tattoos in her work as an actor.
“If I wasn’t acting I would like to have tons of tattoos everywhere, but obviously I can’t do that. And I think there is something beautiful about seeing patches of skin, so I wouldn’t want to be fully tattooed, but I do like it a lot,” she explains.
“I love art and I think there is something very beautiful and symbolic about keeping something with you throughout your life permanently.”