Diehard fans of one of Netflix’s (arguably) best shows “Stranger Things” have probably re-watched the second season four or five times now, adding in pauses for circulating interviews and online conversation. Fortunately, for us in the midst of the madness, we were able to chat with Priah Ferguson, who plays Caleb McLaughlin’s younger sister Erica. The sassy and fun actress discussed the audition and filming process for the highly-anticipated second season, shared her favorite moment from being on set (yes, it involves Millie Bobby Brown) and much more.
How did you get your start in acting?
I’ve always been very outgoing – starting conversations with anyone. People call me an old soul, I just love meeting people and talking to them about their day. My voice is a little raspy too, so I think that makes it funnier. Strangers would crack up and always tell my parents, “You need to get her on TV.” My parents are creatives and introduced me to performing arts classes around the age of five. They thought it would be fun and I’d burn off some energy. I sort of stood out in my performances and easily entertained the audience. Program directors said my natural timing was really good for my age and my parents should look into getting an agent. They were a little hesitant but they saw how bad I wanted to do it. Plus, I kept talking about it. I didn’t understand how actors “got inside the TV,” but I just knew this is what I wanted to do. I later signed with People Store, an Atlanta-based agency, and things have been going really good since! I’ve been on a few shows and commercials. It’s just been a lot of fun!
What was the casting process like for you on “Stranger Things”?
My agents emailed an audition request and asked me to tape two scenes as “Lucas’ younger sister.” I don’t like to overstudy for auditions because I like performing from my heart, using improv. I just had a lot of fun with Erica. We went to a studio to tape the audition because I wanted it to look “on point.” That was very important to me and it was only my second time going there. Three days later, casting asked if I was available. A few days after that, my agent called and said I booked it! Straight from tape, no call-back or anything! My mom played it cool on the phone, but as soon as she hung up the phone we started screaming.
Priah Ferguson in “Stranger Things”
Do you share any similar characteristics with Erica?
Well, we’re both labeled as sassy. I guess I’m more sassy with my friends, but not in a disrespectful way. More like a, “Hey girl!“ type of way. I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. We’re both smart, enjoy playing with dolls, wearing sweaters and love to change up our hair. Erica is also a confident African American girl with a loving family, just like me. Oh, and she loves her sibling, too, although they disagree sometimes.
What was the filming process like?
It was amazing filming with the Duffer Brothers and the whole team! It was so much fun. On my first day, I was a little quiet in the beginning. I think I was a little star struck by Caleb, but we started talking and sharing dance moves before rolling so I felt more comfortable. During filming, everyone on set would just crack up at our scenes. They asked me to return again, then again, and again. The Duffer Brothers gave me a tour of the set and I tried on a lot of cool, old school clothes. I had a good time!
Did you just know what was going on with your character or did you know what the arc of the season was going to be?
Well, I only knew what was going on with Erica. My script didn’t give away anything else. The Duffer Brothers like to keep everything a secret. I knew my character thought Lucas and his friends were nerds, so I created a backstory and watched a few old episodes to learn more about the group. Erica loves Lucas, but he probably doesn’t make time for her and she doesn’t understand why he’s so into science-fiction stuff. Sometimes, when people don’t understand someone, it’s easier to tease them instead of learning about it. It’s not right but people do it, especially kids. As she learns more about him, I feel they’ll grow closer. She may be a low-key ”nerd” too.
How hard for you was it to keep any secrets you may have known?
Not hard. This is a huge show, so I didn’t want to blow it. I’m homeschooled now, but during filming I wasn’t. I remember during lunch, everyone was talking about how excited they were for “Stranger Things” season 2. I’m pretty talkative at lunch, but I was VERY quiet that day.
How did/have your friends reacted since seeing you on the show?
You know, a few of my closest friends don’t watch much TV. Their reaction was, “Oh, Priah, I’m so happy for you!” Some of their family members are very excited. We got to get together and watched a few episodes. They love the show now!
You’ve been called the breakout star of season two by many. What is your response to people being such big fans of yours?
I did not expect that at all! I knew fans would like Erica because the script was funny, but man, I’m very, very grateful. Thank you all so much! I’m so happy you like my work.
Priah Ferguson in “Stranger Things”
Out of all your one-liners, which one is your favorite?
“Code red Lucath, code red!“ I thought that was so mean at first. Like, I felt bad saying it. I didn’t want to hurt Gaten Matarazzo’s feelings. But, I had to remember, this was Erica and it wasn’t personal. Seeing it come together was pretty funny.
Do you have a favorite moment you can share with us from the set?
Oh yeah. Meeting Millie. That was one of my favorite moments. She was the first cast member I met. I walked on set to meet the hair and makeup team and she was sitting in a chair talking to someone. She politely asked the person to be excused and greeted me with a hug. I’ve always admired her work, but that made me feel very warm inside.
If you were to pick one other character to be, who would it be and why?
Eleven. I feel as though she has a lot of superhero qualities. You don’t see much representation from girls who look like me that around my age performing those types of roles. I have great comedic timing, but I also love working on sci-fi projects and intense drama. I think that surprises people.
If you were to guess or have a say in what happens season three, what would be something you would recommend?
Oh…I hope they expand Erica! Maybe Erica’s help is needed by Lucas at some point and she slowly makes her way into the squad. It may not be on purpose. Erica’s nosey, so maybe she found a clue in Lucas’ room that he’s hiding something. Of course she may annoy them and his friends, but they’ll realize her strength. I think it’ll be cool if Eleven, MadMax and Erica kind of team up here and there too.
What can we expect to see you in in the near future?
Well, I’m not quite sure. I’m always auditioning for cool roles and they’re all very different. We’ll see… I’m excited to see what’s next!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m so grateful for all the fans who have embraced my character, and I’m really thankful for the Duffer Brothers who allowed me to do more. This was only supposed to be one scene. Many actors don’t get this chance so I’m very, very thankful!