Published Sep 05, 2018Aside from its retro aesthetics and throwback tone, one of the most talked-about aspects of the first season of Stranger Things was Shannon Purser. As Barb, she brought a quiet and reserved nature to her background role that she later channelled again through Riverdale. With Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, however, she's proven that she's finally ready to be front and centre.
"I was definitely nervous," she tells Exclaim! on the phone from her home in Atlanta. "Partially because I'm a pretty anxious person and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. Definitely, the knowledge that I was going to be the face of this movie was intimidating at first. And it is a very different experience from being a side character, because I was working all day, every day, and really had to stay on my toes and be alert and be very mindful of giving the best performance I could."
The new Netflix film from director Ian Samuels was loosely based on the Cyrano de Bergerac story and stars Purser as the titular "loser." Through a series of mishaps, she teams up with a popular high school girl to trick a boy into dating her, facing her own insecurities along the way. It's the sort of role that could be a source of insecurity for some, but Purser has approached it with a mature sense of wisdom.
"The title is Sierra Burgess Is a Loser but I don't really think she is a loser," she says. "Playing the nerd isn't necessarily the most ego-boosting role. But I think that there's a lot more to Sierra, and the point of the film is that it is about her journey of self-love and acceptance and that's something that I really relate to. It was really cool to tap into that."
Another thing that's been fun for Purser to tap into is the traditional high school experience, which she eschewed in real life in favour of home-schooling. "I'm 21, so I'm definitely not in high school anymore, but I guess I have a few more years left of playing a high schooler in Hollywood," she says. "It's kind of like, some of my first high school experiences I've had were onscreen. I never got to go to a prom or have those experiences like join a club or be in band — or not in the traditional sense. It's kind of fun."
As if reliving high school and overcoming nerves weren't enough, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser also marks the debut of Purser's stunning singing voice via "Sunflower," a song that appears at a crucial time in the film. "That was definitely a little intimidating," she explains. "I've been singing since I was a kid, but I take my voice a lot more personally than my acting. I feel a lot more personal criticism when somebody tells you that you don't have a good voice.
"I was kind of nervous at first, and it was my first time singing on camera. But it was a really great process. The writer of the movie [Lindsay Beer] actually wrote the song herself when she was in high school. So there was something very real and personal about it that I really loved."
In other words, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser was an overwhelmingly good time for Purser. "It really was such a positive experience, and I feel a lot more self-confident now which is really great." She hopes the film will be equally important to its viewers. "I really just hope that it inspires people to be more authentic and to be honest with each other and themselves…. To really look at other people, and not take each other at face value. Most importantly, to really love yourself and appreciate yourself for who you are."
Sierra Burgess Is a Loser hits Netflix on September 7.