Emmy-nominated actress Shannon Purser burst onto the scene as Barb in season one of Stranger Things. Though her role was small, she quickly became a fan favorite (#JusticeforBarb) and went on to get roles on Riverdale, Rise and now, the Netflix's upcoming comedy-drama Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. Purser plays Sierra Burgess, a less-than-popular teenager who finds herself working with queen bee Veronica (Kristine Froseth) to get closer to cute boy Jamey (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Noah Centineo)—a plot that involves some questionably ethical catfishing, and is a modern twist on the story of Cyrano de Bergerac. The film focuses on Sierra’s growing insecurities, the navigation of relationships in the modern digital age and the pressures of trying to fit in in high school.
Purser chatted with Her Campus about how she relates to Sierra, her thoughts on social media and body image, and what she hopes viewers will take away from Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.
*Warning: some spoilers lie ahead*
Her Campus: In the film, Sierra is asked to fill in the blank “Sierra is... ____.” If you could fill in the blank for who Sierra is (other than “a loser”), what words would you use?
Shannon Purser: I guess I’d say, “Sierra is… finding herself.” The big point of the movie is that Sierra has always been sure of herself and confident in who she is and what she wanted, and now she’s in high school and she’s starting to feel more insecure. She doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up, she feels pressure to live up to her dad’s expectations and she falls in love for the first time and doesn’t feel good enough for this boy, and I think the whole film is her journey of finding herself and learning to love herself for who she is.
HC: Either when you were in high school or throughout your career, could you relate to that journey she's on? Do you see parts of yourself in Sierra?
SP: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely understand what it’s like to be lost and to want to fit in, to want to be liked and to feel this pressure to change yourself to be accepted. That’s something that really resonated with me and I really hope that it resonates with other people, too.
HC: You mentioned that Sierra is dealing with a lot of insecurity and trying to overcome that and learn to be confident in herself again. How important do you think it is to portray the message to young girls that being yourself, and having confidence, is the best thing you can do?
SP: I think it’s so important! I think social media has really changed the way that we talk to each other and portray ourselves. I mean, I love social media—I use it, obviously—but it has its own dangers, I think. We see all these people living these perfect Instagram lives with their Facetuned or touched-up bodies, and it’s like, this is what I have to live up to? This is what I have to be? It’s really intimidating and I hope that young people watching the movie will realize that they don’t have to be that, and that living authentically will bring you more joy than having a million followers will.
HC: In the age of social media, especially, it can be really hard to teach young people to differentiate their appearance from their self-worth. Is that something that you hope the movie can achieve or teach young girls?
SP: Yeah, absolutely. I really hope so! That’s something that I’m still learning, and I’m not a teenager anymore. But I think it’s so important. Our society places such an unhealthy amount of value [on] the way that our bodies look—and not even just our bodies, but that [we] fit this certain standard. It’s so unhealthy and I know firsthand how damaging that can be to young girls’ self-esteem and I really hope that this movie encourages young people, especially young women, to love themselves for who they are and to know that they are worthy of love. Your body is beautiful, no matter how it looks, but it also doesn’t define you. It’s not the most important thing about you.
HC: And that’s something that comes through in the friendship of Sierra and Veronica. At the start, they might as well be living on different planets, but they do eventually become true friends. What do you think makes this friendship truly special and what type of message do you think it sends?
SP: I really love the friendship between Sierra and Veronica because I think this world tends to pit young women against each other and movies kind of do that, too. I’m really glad that the movie showcases that these two girls obviously seem very different on the surface, but over the course of the movie, we find out that they’re much more alike than they are different.
And I know that in my life, I’ve met people and judged them, and thought that they were going to be a certain way, and then [have] been very pleasantly surprised, and found out that they were actually a lot more like me than I thought. I do think that’s what good friendships do—you sharpen each other and make each other better people.
HC: I don’t think I would necessarily say the film is a romance film, even though the romance is one part of it. Was the friendship your favorite aspect of the film? Did you like the romance story? What was your favorite story to tell within this movie? Because there were a lot of different moving parts happening.
SP: The romance, obviously, is fun! I’m kind of a sucker for rom-coms. But I do love the friendship between Sierra and Veronica a lot. I think there’s a lot of love there as well. And I also just love Sierra’s journey with herself. I think I relate to that because I definitely had a lot of internal conflict as a teenager, and I think a lot of young people today do as well.
HC: We think that definitely is the most important relationship that we see [in the film]. But of course, we also want to know about the romance, because we’re suckers for rom-coms, too! The film also centers on Sierra's relationship with Jamey, whom she catfishes after Veronica gives him Sierra's number. What are your thoughts on how Sierra went about things? What do you think is the biggest lesson here for the audience?
SP: I definitely do not endorse catfishing. [laughs] I think Sierra was thrown into this situation and panicked, and that obviously doesn’t excuse it, but she didn’t set out to hurt anybody.
I think the movie is really about how important it is to be honest and to be authentic, and I would just really encourage anybody to realize that the most important relationships you'll have and the most beautiful relationships you’ll have come from being yourself and being authentic. I think Sierra does kind of face the consequences of her actions, and it only really works out in the end for the two of them because they did learn to love each other for who they really were.
HC: And if you were in Jamey's shoes, do you think you could have forgiven Sierra?
SP: Ooh. I honestly don’t know! I like to think that I could’ve, but I don’t know. I really don’t know.