Erica Sinclair, the smart-alecky younger sister of Lucas in Stranger Things, was meant to be a minor character in the world of Hawkins, Indiana. But Priah Ferguson, the 12-year-old Atlanta middle-schooler who plays Erica, infused her with such unrelenting sass in season two that she not only returned for season three, she came back bigger than before.
In Stranger Things 3, Ferguson becomes a more central member of the ensemble, as Erica helps the so-called Scoops Troop — that would be Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), and Robin (Maya Hawke) — investigate what’s really going on with the Russians at the Starcourt Mall. Ferguson recently spoke to Vulture by phone about how it felt to take on an expanded role, dealing with more attention from fans, and being given professional permission to curse.
I spoke to the Duffers [the creators of Stranger Things] after season two and they seemed to know already that they were going to include Erica in the next season. When did you become aware that that was their plan?
I saw it in an article and my agent sent my mom an email, so I was really excited.
Did they give you a heads-up about what Erica would be doing in season three?
No, they didn’t. I had to wait until I got the scripts.
How did you feel when you saw how big the part was?
I was surprised. I was grateful. I knew this season was going to be awesome because of the writers. I was honored. It was unbelievable.
There was a lot of positive response to Erica online after season two. How much of that were you aware of at the time?
You know, I’m not really on social media. My mom showed me a few responses. That was really cool and I was surprised. But I’m not on social media. I read the replies and I hear about them, but I’m not always on there. I’m not like an active, active user.
You have social-media accounts though, right? Does your mom manage those?
I do, yes. She does. She manages it, but she will share some stuff that she wants to post with me or that she came across with me. Good and bad.
Oh, good and bad?
Yes, just to kinda like — it’s good for me to know. I don’t get hurt by it, though. [Laughs.]
What kinds of things have people said?
Oh, you know, that I’m annoying. Just stuff like that. I was prepared for it. I wasn’t expecting it to be all good things.
That’s not really about you. That’s about the character.
Right. Most of the responses, they’re really cool. They’re super-nice and about how the fans love my character.
This season, Erica uses some salty language. How did you feel about that and how did your mom feel about that?
My mom, she was pretty straight about it. She wasn’t like, “No, okay, you’re not going to be home cussing up a storm like that.” She was, “Okay, this is work. So I understand.” And me, I was cool with it. I think every kid would be cool with it. I was like, Oh, wow, I get to cuss?
You have permission. And your mom can’t get mad at you — it’s for work.
Right! Yeah. [Laughs.]
One of Erica’s big jobs is to crawl through the vents so the Scoops Troop can figure out what the Russians are hiding. What was that like to shoot?
I had on gear, and when I was shooting it, crawling through the vent, I kind of thought of it as a little action film.
How long did you have to spend in that space?
It would be days where it would be like 1 to 4. I didn’t spend a long time in it.
I was wondering if you ever felt claustrophobic in there.
Oh no, I didn’t.
I read that when you were preparing to audition for season two, you researched the period, meaning the 1980s. I’m curious: What kind of research did you do?
I listened to ’80s music like “Computer Love” and I would watch movies like E.T. My mom taught me about some ’80s fashion and she taught me some things she did in the ’80s. And I looked at my grandma’s albums.
Were you familiar with some of those songs and movies before the show, or was Stranger Things really an introduction to that?
I was always an ’80s and ’90s fan, so I knew a little about them. But it was cool learning more.
What made you start being an ’80s fan?
I have an old soul. That’s how I got into the ’80s — because I’ve always had, like, an old soul.
As I’m sure you know, there are so many Stranger Things products and promotions: Baskin-Robbins, New Coke. Have you tried any of them or bought any Stranger Things stuff?
The ice cream I did. We were at Baskin-Robbins, and I know they have Stranger Things ice cream. So I got the Eleven Heaven and I tried some type of Stranger Things praline ice cream.
How was it?
It was good.
You’re in middle school, right?
Are you still going to regular school, or are you pursuing acting full-time?
I go to public school. I go to regular school. It’s cool. I like the balance. It keeps me grounded.
Have things changed since you did Stranger Things as far as how your classmates treat you?
Some kids are just finding out, but people treat me the same. They don’t treat me any different. The teachers treat me the same. I’m in drama club. There’s nothing different. They congratulate me.
I don’t know if you can tell yet, since the new season has only been out for a few days, but have you noticed any changes in how people are responding to you now that you have a bigger role this time?
Yes. I definitely get noticed more. Like probably once a day. I was at the airport in Cleveland and there were fans coming up to me there, like about four fans coming up to me at baggage claim. They were crowding around me, so I thought it was staged at first, but people told me that it wasn’t. And there were fans outside of my hotel. They had Funko Pops and they wanted me to sign autographs, so that was cool.
I know they haven’t announced whether there will be a fourth season, although it sounds like the Duffers have a plan for it. Do you know anything yet about that or what role Erica might play?
I’m excited about season three and I’m really excited for the fans. If there is a season four, I think it will be awesome, but I’m really excited about season three right now.
One last thing: Do you have a favorite Erica line?
I do. “You can’t spell America without Erica.”
I knew you were going to say that.