Sierra Burgess Is a Loser’s Shannon Purser on Why the Film Is ‘So Relevant’ to Her Life
Netflix is following the success of its most recent YA rom-com, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, with yet another teen romance, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. TATBILB heartthrob Noah Centineo is the love interest in this one, too, but the film’s leading lady is Shannon Purser, AKA Barb from Stranger Things. Purser plays Sierra Burgess, a smart, funny, but unpopular high school student who — through some accidental (at first) catfishing and an unlikely alliance with her onetime rival, a cheerleader named Veronica (Kristine Froseth) — begins an online relationship with Centineo’s Jamey, a football player at another local high school.
“It just feels so relevant to my own life,” Purser told Brit + Co in a recent interview about the movie, which hits Netflix on September 7. “I’ve had so many of those budding relationship conversations over the phone. I think that comes with social media becoming more prevalent. So it was really interesting to kind of get to play that in real life.”
Read on for more from our interview with Purser, including how she relates to Sierra, her real-life friendship with Froseth, and, yes, her thoughts on Centineo, AKA the internet’s new boyfriend.
Brit + Co: At the beginning of the movie, Sierra does this thing where she looks in the mirror and tells herself she’s a “magnificent beast.” Do you have any mantras or little rituals that make you feel confident?
Shannon Purser: It’s kind of an acting-related one. Before I go into an audition, I tell myself, “You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be honest.” I tend to put a lot of my pressure on myself because I’m a perfectionist, so I just tell myself, “You don’t have to be the best actor anybody’s ever seen; you just have to play each role as honestly as you can.”
B+C: What was your audition process like for this movie?
SP: It was interesting. I auditioned quite a few times. At one point, they wanted me to sort of improvise that scene in the mirror, so I put the phone on my bathroom counter and walked in and was sort of hyping myself up, and that was part of my audition. It was really fun. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it, and I went in several times, so I was really hoping that it would work out. I’m very grateful that I got the part.
B+C: What do you like most about Sierra as a character?
SP: I like her heart. She’s a very emotional and empathetic person. She feels what other people are feeling. And even though her emotions get her into trouble sometimes, I think she has a good heart, deep down, and she wants to understand people and she wants to give people the benefit of the doubt. And I think I’m kind of similar in that way.
B+C: For most of the film, Sierra and Jamey are getting to know each other via text and over the phone. What was it like to film that?
SP: That was actually really interesting, because it’s kind of hard to not have that person there. But what’s really great is that we actually had Noah on the other line. So those scenes when Sierra is talking on the phone, I was actually talking to Noah. It was really helpful to have somebody to play off of.
B+C: Have you ever started a relationship with someone in that way — over the phone or through a screen?
SP: I’ve had a couple of friendships start that way. I’ve met some really cool friends on Twitter, which is really fun. Social media is kind of a double-edged sword, but there are some good people on there. I don’t think I’ve had any relationships start on the phone, though. I have had breakups over the phone, I’ve had first confessions of feelings over the phone. So I am very familiar with that.
B+C: Sierra and Jamey are obviously the central romantic relationship, but the friendship that grows between Sierra and Veronica is arguably even more important, especially since they start out not really liking each other. Are you friends with anyone you didn’t like or didn’t get along with at first?
SP: Yeah, that has happened, actually. I’ve definitely judged a book by its cover and misjudged somebody before getting to know them. And I’m thankful that I got over that and made the effort to really understand that person as they were, because it was worth it. I discovered that we were more similar than we were different.
B+C: What was it like to work with Kristine?
SP: Kristine is amazing. I love her so much. She plays a very convincing mean girl, but she’s actually the sweetest human being and just such a positive presence. I think the chemistry really shows. We connected really quickly, and I love any opportunity that I get to hang out with her.
B+C: And Noah? You two have such great chemistry, even in those scenes where you’re not actually face to face.
SP: Noah is just so easy to get along with. He’s incredibly friendly and easy-going and fun to be around. I feel so lucky that we had the cast that we did, because it made the whole process so much easier, and I think the performances are a lot more authentic because of it.
B+C: During one of Sierra and Jamey’s first conversations, they get to know each other by asking and answering some simple but really fun questions. So we’re going to borrow a couple of those questions for you to answer as yourself. Do you have a secret talent?
SP: I don’t know how secret it is, but I’m a pretty good singer.
B+C: You’re a great singer! What kind of animal would you be?
SP: Something cuddly. Like a panda. I like to sleep, and I like to eat, and I like to give hugs.
Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is available to stream on Netflix starting Friday, September 7.
(photos via Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Netflix + Aaron Epstein/Netflix)