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Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con 2016: Shannon Purser (a.k.a. Barb from ‘Stranger Things’) Panel Coverage

As unfortunate events happen to the character of Barb in the Netflix original series Stranger Things, it seems uncanny that the actress that portrays her, Shannon Purser, would also have a bit of bad luck surrounding her panel at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con that took place on Saturday afternoon, October 29th. Scheduled to start at 1:30 pm, her panel did not commence until 1:55 pm. While her panel was in two combined meeting halls, a large majority of attendees were, in fact, claiming their spots in anticipation for the following 2:30 p.m. panel on Batman ’66. This caused seating issues for folks arriving to see the Stranger Things panel, but not finding a spot due to all the Batman attendees. Per the program, the panel was to be attended not only by Purser, but also by Shawn Levy (executive producer, and director of episodes 3 & 4), Dan Cohen (executive producer), Andrew Furtado, and Tyler Craig Henry, but in the end, it was only Purser and moderator Greg Beville.

Due to the change in lineup, Beville realigned the panel to focus on audience Q&A, which proceeded quite successfully. Since Barb has gained a cult status of sorts, with many folks identifying with her and wanting appropriate justice and resolution to her character, the panel provided a wonderful opportunity for people to talk candidly and intimately with Purser.

On Auditioning and Getting the Part of Barb

For Purser, Stranger Things was her first acting job, so all aspects of the experience wer new: “It was overwhelming, but everyone was nice and made me feel at home.” Purser explained the audition process as “a lot of days, auditions are self-taped: you record your audition and you send it in. My first two [auditions] for Stranger Things were like this. My best friend had a better camera, so she recorded them. The first one was the school hallway scene. It was a lot of fun. They initially wanted me to audition for Carol the bully.” Purser said she was adamant she wanted to be Barb and expressed that Chelsea Talmadge would go on to do a fantastic job playing Carol. 

Up until this point, Purser had been with an agency for five years and nothing had clicked until Stranger Things happened. After two auditions, Purser explained the craziness began when the Duffer Brothers had her come in because they wanted to meet her and perform an audition in person. This turned out to be the pool scene, and she auditioned while laying on the couch and people outside the office could hear her screaming. Per Purser, “I went all out.”

  Later that day, Purser was with her mother at a movie theater. She joked and said, “I could not remember what film we were watching. I was checking my phone. I know it’s taboo, and I got the message that I got the part. So my mom and I quietly freaked out about it in the theater.”

When someone in the audience asked for advice on breaking into the industry, that they really wanted to become an actress but were not receiving much support, Purser was honest with her feedback, “The entertainment industry is not easy to break into. It’s a matter of luck. But if it is something that you love, you need to do it or you won’t be happy when you’re doing anything else.” She would go on to recommend Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman and summarized it by saying, “No one knows everything [in the entertainment industry].”

Working at the Movie Theater

One of the curious bits of trivia about Purser was that she worked at a movie theater before her break in Stranger Things. When asked about it, she elaborated that she actually worked there for two years and even continued to work there after Stranger Things had happened. She joked and said she had only quit her job there about two months ago.

She also talked about how after Stranger Things, creepy guys would sometimes call the theater asking for her. She also said that, “One time, a couple ambushed me in the parking lot. They wanted a picture. They were friendly, but the experience was surreal.”

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The Pool Scene and Barb’s Corpse

When it comes to Barb’s character, her two standout scenes are when she is pulled into The Upside Down at Steve’s (Joe Keery) pool by the monster, and when her body is later found by El (Millie Bobby Brown).

In regards to the pool scene, Purser said, “It was fun to film in The Upside Down world. It was Shawn Levy who directed those scenes. It was my last day of filming, and they made a creepy pool. There’s spores in the air and the monster suit was there so I could look and interact with it. It was really creepy. The suit was amazing; it had animatronics on it.” Pursuer spent five to six hours screaming all by herself for the scene and at the end of the day she could not talk; however, she recognizes the scene as it really showcased her performance and what she could really do.

When asked about her grotesque corpse in The Upside Down, if it was really her or a dummy, Pursuer admitted it was the question she gets asked the most, but revealed it was a mold. “It was so nasty and so gross. It wasn’t me but a mold of my face. Getting the mold is a crazy process; I could only breathe through my nose and I had a cold that day.”

She revealed that it was weird to see herself dead and rotted, but expressed she was even more weirded out by the fact that her parents watched the scene and were nonplussed about it!

The Cult of Barb

Though her screen time was short, the character of Barb left an indelible impression on fans. On social media, various hashtags have come into currency that support or identify with Purser’s character: #JusticeForBarb, #WeAreAllBarb, #TeamBarb, and so on. From the panel’s audience, someone expressed that she had grown up with bullying and she had really identified with Barb.

Purser was very glad to see that her character wasn’t treated as another tropey, throw-away character. “I didn’t expect so many people to care about her [Barb], and I tried to play her as close as I could to myself.”

This, of course, led to someone asking how she felt about Barb being betrayed by her best friend Nancy (Natalia Dyer). Purser asked the audience to “think back to your younger years, when we used to focus on ourselves. I personally would not have left Barb behind, but I understand why Nancy does what she does. Nancy does pay for her mistakes later, and she eventually finds out who she is and grows up [as a character].”

When asked if there would be justice for Barb, Purser said that there would be, but she did not know anything. She speculated that the Duffer Brothers feel bad for killing her. She also revealed that not everyone knew what was being written in the script, and no one would initially reveal to her the fate of the character; however, she said she was excited for season two, and it is a daily struggle for her to not call the Duffer Brothers and ask what was going to happen.

Favorite Things

Of course, when it came to free-form Q&A, lots of fans are always curious by what other people like or enjoy. When asked about what her favorite sci-fi film was, Purser answered with The Time Machine. In regards to books, Purser gushed over Harry Potter. “I like some classics, like A Tale of Two Cities, but Harry Potter is what I grew up with. My sister and I would take turns reading Harry Potter to each other, doing the voices.

Since Dungeon and Dragons was an integral plot point in Stranger Things, someone asked what her favorite race and class from the game were. Purser confessed that she has never played Dungeons and Dragons and wouldn’t know how it works. Her character of Barb was never cool enough to be invited to play.

Dream Roles and Future Endeavors

During the Q&A, the question was brought up what would her dream role would be. Without missing a beat, Purser said “Squirrel Girl! I wish Stan Lee was in the room right now, so I could tell him I want to be Squirrel Girl.” Pursuer then conceded that she also loved Anna Kendrick, another actress who has vocalized their interest in the role.

In regards to future projects, Purser said she was going to be in an Archie show in 2017 called Riverdale that’s being shot in Vancouver. She will be playing the character of Ethel Muggs and encouraged her fans to check the show out.

*Panel photo courtesy of Nicholas Diak

Nicholas Diak, Fanbase Press Contributor



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