‘Sierra Burgess Is A Loser’ Exclusive Interview: Shannon Purser Talks Story of Empowerment, Self Love & Self Acceptance

When it comes to movies that are as important as they are entertaining and heartwarming and just plain swoon-worthy, no one is doing it better than Netflix. Just three weeks after its uber hit To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before hit the streaming service, Netflix is dropping another teen rom-com that sends all the same important messages and delivers another Noah Centineo character we’re swooning over.
Sierra Burgess Is A Loser is a modern rom-com retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story set in high school.  The story centers on Sierra, an intelligent teen who does not fall into the shallow definition of high school pretty but, in a case of mistaken identity that results in unexpected romance, must team with the popular girl in order to win her crush.
Just as To All The Boys brought us a film with a diverse cast — and an Asian American lead — Sierra Burgess doesn’t fall victim to stereotypes as it puts body diversity front and center and manages to make us fall in love with these characters as they go through one of life’s most challenging tests: adolescence.
We had a chance to chat with Sierra Burgess star Shannon Purser about her new film, where she discusses the importance of body diversity in movies, the importance of teenage rom-coms, working with our bae Noah Centineo, and more!

Fangirlish: Tell us a little about Sierra Burgess Is A Loser.

Shannon Purser: Sierra Burgess is about a young girl in high school who’s trying to figure out who she is. Her life gets turned upside down when she meets this boy for the first time and has this crush on this guy. Unfortunately she feels like she has to change in order to get his attention. So there’s this mistaken identity aspect to the movie, which is definitely intriguing. But ultimately I think it’s a story of empowerment; of a girl who is trying to find her place in the world and just undergoes this journey of self love and self acceptance.

Fangirlish: What makes this the right moment for this film?

Purser: I think the world is pretty scary right now. I think we could use some more light-hearted movies. So I’m really glad Sierra Burgess gets to come out now because I think that its message will really resonate with young people. Especially in the age of social media, it’s so easy to feel this pressure to be someone else or to have the tools to be someone else. It’s a lot easier to be someone else on the Internet. So I hope this movie really encourages young people to be careful of what they say and to look at people beyond face value — to really rethink the way they perceive other people and to choose themselves.

Fangirlish: What makes Sierra Burgess stand out in this resurgence of rom-coms?

Purser: I really love that because I feel like growing up I didn’t have a lot of teen movies to watch. There was kind of a resurgence in the early 2000s, but apart from that I was really watching more heavy adult stuff when I was that age. So it felt really good to be a part of this new wave of rom-coms. But I think it is really timely. And I love that it’s a female-centric story that doesn’t really fall into stereotypes or tropes. I feel like the characters are really complex and undergo real transformative journeys. I think growing up is so hard and scary people kind of tend to underestimate teenagers or laugh at them. I think it’s really cool to showcase what is a difficult and an important time in adolescence.

Fangirlish: What attracted you to the role of Sierra and this film as a whole?

Purser: I loved that she wasn’t a stereotype. She’s a very well-rounded person who is trying to find her place in the world, which is something that I relate to. I feel like when I went to high school I didn’t really fit into like a clique or a jock or a nerd. I was nerdy, but I think that human beings are a lot more multifaceted than they appear in movies sometimes. And I really loved how I could relate to Sierra in that way.

Fangirlish: This film preaches the theme that there’s more beneath the surface than we see when it comes to a person. How do you think that relates to Sierra and her relationship with Veronica (Kristine Froseth)?

Purser: I love Sierra’s relationship with Veronica. It’s one of my favorite relationships in the movie. Even though it is a love story, I think there’s sort of a love story between Sierra and Veronica, which I find interesting. We don’t have a lot of positive female friendships in movies. I really love that it’s kind of a journey for both of their characters. They start off kind of enemies and really disliking each other, and by the end they end up realizing that they’re a lot more similar than they are different. I think that sends a really important message. I remember in high school I was afraid of other girls, in a sense, like I couldn’t relate to them like they were too popular and they wouldn’t understand my life and how I felt. But as I’ve grown older I’ve made so many positive friendships with people that I wouldn’t expect. So I hope that the movie really encourages people to live outside their comfort zone and to give people a chance.

Fangirlish: What was it like working with Kristine Froseth and bringing that dynamic to life?

Purser: Kristine is amazing, she’s so wonderful. Obviously she’s stunningly beautiful, but she’s also so smart and so talented. But I’m really glad we had this chemistry from day one.

Fangirlish: What can you tell us about the dynamic between Sierra and Jamie (Noah Centineo) and how that evolves over the course of the film?

Purder: Noah (Centineo) is so wonderful. He’s so easy to work with, so easy to play off of. I think Sierra and Jamie are interesting because he comes from sort of a different world — he’s the quarterback — and because of that Sierra thinks automatically, because of that, she doesn’t have a chance with him, which is ridiculous because unfortunately the beginning of their relationship is sort of under false pretenses. They do kind of realize that they have a lot more in common than they do different and from that that love for each other kind of blossoms. Even though there are some hard moments at the end — when he realizes what she’s been doing — I think they’re kind of drawn to each other because they do have very similar quirks and outlooks on life.

Fangirlish: Why is this film important for young girls to see?

Purser: For one thing, I think there’s a very troubling lack of body diversity in movies. I feel very grateful to be part of that change because I remember growing up I didn’t really see anybody who had a body like mine. I wish that I had had that opportunity when I was younger. But I feel grateful for that. I think this movie is poignant. Even though it’s a teen movie there’s a lot of heart and good messages. I just really hope that young people that watch it feel encouraged to be themselves and be honest with other people. It’s much more important to be kind than it is to have a million followers. There’s nothing more valuable than being loved for who you are. I think you can only do that by being your authentic self. I just hope it’s an encouraging movie for teenagerws.

Fangirlish: Were you inspired by any personal events growing up in high school that you brought to this movie?

Purser: I don’t know if there was anything in particular. But definitely the romantic scenes with her and Jamie, I pulled from my relationships of the past. And kind of anxieties I’ve had about love, which I’m a very anxious person so it wasn’t difficult to do. I think particularly the scene where Sierra confronts her parents — when she’s at her worst — I’ve definitely had moments like that where I just felt super alone and isolated and I think a lot of young people do. So I really pulled from that.

Fangirlish: What was the most rewarding part about working on this film?

Purser: The whole thing. We made the movie in like 21 days, which I didn’t even know was possible. We all worked so hard and just put so much heart and soul into this movie. So I’m just really proud that we got it done. I guess also you don’t really know if you can do something until you try it. Up until Sierra I’d always been kind of in a supporting role, more in the background. This is my first time being the lead, and it was kind of scary at first but really rewarding. I think it kind of just cemented in me that, ‘I’m here, I can do this, I’m meant to be here.’

Fangirlish: What was it like working with your director Ian Samuels?

Purser: Ian is incredible. I like him so much. I remember he and I had a Skype meeting before I even got the part. And I think that even more kind of assured me that this was the role for me. We just connected so hugely, and I just admired how kind and empathetic he was. He wanted to tell this story in a way that was authentic and beautiful. Just working with him on set was so great because he really trusted our instincts and let us play around with the characters. That really meant a lot.

Fangirlish: Why should people watch Sierra Burgess Is A Loser?

Purser: I think people should see Sierra Burgess because if you’re older and you’ve already been through high school, it’s certainly nostalgic. I think it will remind people of what it’s like to be young and be unsure of who you are. Then for younger people, as well, I hope they’ll feel comforted in a way that pretty much everyone is trying to find their place in this world. No matter how perfect they look on Instagram, everybody has that need to be accepted and loved by others. I hope that people watch this movie and feel more comfortable with who they are decide to be honest with themselves and other people.

Sierra Burgess Is A Loser hits Netflix this Friday, Sept. 7.

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