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Zimbio's Rising Stars: 'Sierra Burgess Is A Loser's Shannon Purser On Landing Her First Leading Role And How To Overcome Insecurities

We're highlighting remarkable young actresses who are set to become the leading ladies of tomorrow.

Getty/Rafael Hidalgo for Zimbio

The world is changing, and the team here at Zimbio is all about it. Now, more than ever, the concerns of women are being heard, respected, and valued through movements like Time's Up and Me Too. And, now more than ever, it's up to us to embrace and empower each other if we want these movements to stay soaring. That's why the month of March — Women's History Month — feels extra important this year. To celebrate, we're calling out awesome young actresses you'll be seeing much more of in the future, the rising stars who excite and inspire us. Whether we were touched by their courageous onscreen performances, brought to tears by their relatable characters, or captivated by their thoughtful posts on social media, we think every one of these actresses is on the road to becoming a household name. 

Earlier in the month, we featured Emma Kenney, best known as the spirited Debbie Gallagher on Shameless. The next star on our list was 16-year-old Talitha Bateman, who you'll recognize from films like Annabelle: Creation and Geostorm. She also appears in the highly anticipated drama, Love, Simon, which hit theaters March 16.

Next up, we're putting the spotlight on Shannon Purser, who readers will recognize from such powerful roles as Ethel in Riverdale and Barb in Stranger Things.

What career accomplishment are you most proud of thus far?

Shannon Purser: I'm most proud of a movie I shot last year called Sierra Burgess Is A Loser. It was my first time being the lead in a movie and I'm really proud of all the work I put into it. It should be available on Netflix sometime this year and I'm so excited for people to see it.

Can you tell me more about Sierra Burgess Is A Loser? What was it like taking the lead for the first time?

SP: Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is about a girl who lies about her identity to get closer to her crush. I guess that might make it sound like just another teen movie. But there’s a lot of depth there too. My character, Sierra, has to confront her perceptions of others and herself. I’m really so proud of it. Being the lead for the first time was definitely intimidating at first, but we had the most incredible cast and crew and we made something so sweet and honest. I’m so honored they gave me the part.

You also appear in NBC's Rise this year. Can you tell me a little bit about it and your filming experience?

SP: Rise is about a small town and the high school drama teacher that shakes it up when he decides to put on Spring Awakening, a very mature, adult show. Because it’s a show about musical theater, the cast actually sang and recorded all the music, as well as learned dance routines. I love musical theater so it was an incredible experience for me! Definitely a lot of work, but something I’m very proud of. 

Zimbio's Rising Stars: 'Sierra Burgess Is A Loser's Shannon Purser On Her First Leading Role And Overcoming Securities

What big acting goal do you hope to accomplish in the future?

SP: My dream is to someday win an Oscar for Best Actress.

You're already an Emmy nominee! How did it feel when you found out?

SP: I think I still can’t really believe that it happened! I just remember being so shocked. I was in an airport at the time and I just stood there, shaking. It’s such an honor. It would be a total dream to win an Emmy and an Oscar!! But right now I’m just trying to focus on picking roles that I love, and doing my best. 

Absolutely. If you weren't acting, what would you be doing?

SP: Before I started acting professionally, I was going to school with plans to become a therapist. I think I'd still enjoy that now, but I'm so glad I'm acting instead.

And what does TV and film mean to you?

SP: I love that TV and film allow us to explore all possibilities. There are no boundaries or limitations beyond your imagination. I also believe that TV and film can influence the way we think about almost everything, which means that we can use it as a tool to make people more empathetic and the world a better place.

Love that. What other actresses inspire you?

SP: Brie Larson is pretty high on my list of actresses I admire. She's so incredibly talented and also frequently uses her fame to shed light on important issues. I also admire Angelina Jolie for her commitment to philanthropy and humanitarian work. And, of course, Oprah deserves a mention because she is one of the most inspirational and accomplished women/actresses of all time. She has excelled in every field she's entered and seems to help people in new ways every day.

What big obstacle have you faced that you were forced to hurdle?

SP: I think in many ways I have been the biggest obstacle in my acting career, because I used to be so insecure about myself. I felt like I could never be good enough or pretty enough. I'm happy to say that, in many ways, I've become a lot less nervous and more confident, but I still have my moments.

Of course. What piece of advice would you give to other women struggling with insecurity?

SP: Firstly, I’d say that almost every other girl feels the way you do. That girl who you think has it all, probably doesn’t. As an actor, I’ve met celebrities who are considered some of the most beautiful people on earth and even they are just normal human beings with insecurities. Secondly, I’d encourage them to be kinder to themselves. Would you talk to a friend the way you think about yourself? No? Then be kind. Your body is beautiful the way it is, but the person inside is even more beautiful. 

What is it about acting that you love?

SP: I really just love stories. Ever since I was little, I've loved to read books and pretend I was a character in them. Acting is kind of my way of getting to play pretend and look at the world through someone else's eyes. Most people only get to live one life, but through acting, I can live many more. It's amazing.

What's one important lesson you've learned since you began acting?

SP: It's one that I'm still learning, but it's to keep my eyes on my own work and not compare myself to others. Each person's acting is unique to them. There is always room to improve, sure, but nothing good can come from beating myself up for being different.

Zimbio's Rising Stars: 'Sierra Burgess Is A Loser's Shannon Purser On Her First Leading Role And Overcoming Securities
The CW

How do you cope with adversity?

SP: Having a good support system is key. It's good to know that I have friends and family who love me, no matter what stage of life I'm in. My faith in a higher power has also helped me a lot, too.

What's your best fan memory so far?

SP: Whenever I am able to bring joy or help a fan who needs it.

Follow Shannon Purser on Instagram here, and follow the author on Twitter here.

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