Priah Ferguson might have a starring role on one of Netflix's most talked-about shows, "Stranger Things," but in many ways, the 15-year-old is a typical, down-to-earth teen. She goes to public school; she's on the cheerleading squad. "It's been a great journey so far. I guess public school keeps me humble," she tells POPSUGAR. And her circle at school — from her teachers to her friends to her cheer coach — is "super supportive" of her stardom.
But Ferguson isn't your average teenager, and she's having a major year. There's, of course, her scene-stealing role as Erica Sinclair on "Stranger Things." The second half of season four will be released July 1, and Erica is set to play a major part in saving the people of Hawkins, IN. Then, this fall, Ferguson will star in a Netflix Halloween movie with none other than Marlon Wayans. Plus, she's making a name for herself as a style icon, rocking some incredible outfits during her "Stranger Things" press tour.
But as a young child, Ferguson decided to try acting for a really simple reason: she loved watching movies and television. "I would be really into very suspenseful movies and shows, and I would wonder, oh, how are they on TV? How are they doing this? How are they recording this?" she says. When her mom explained that this was acting, Ferguson wanted to give it a try. "At first, [my mom] was a little skeptical about it, but then she put me in some acting classes," Ferguson says. And soon, she was booking parts. One of her earliest roles was on an episode of "Atlanta" in 2016.
But Ferguson's biggest break was getting cast as Erica Sinclair, Lucas's (Caleb McLaughlin) little sister, in season two of "Stranger Things." She was promoted from recurring to main cast between seasons two and three. Erica became unlikely friends with Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and was a fixture at the ice cream shop where Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) worked, bringing her brand of nerdiness and charm to the monster-slaying group. At the end of the season, Dustin and Lucas gave Erica her own Dungeons & Dragons board, marking her welcome into the fold. Ferguson credits the rest of the cast with truly embracing her.
"I learned a lot from them," she says. "It's OK to be the new girl or the new kid on the block, learning everything. . . . Especially after season four with working with them so much, we're all just like a huge family."
When season three hit the streamer, Erica immediately became a fan favorite online; Twitter was filled with Erica GIFs and memes from the season. "I guess it was pretty surreal," Ferguson says of the response. "A lot of young girls are inspired by me in a way, especially young girls of color, so it was all just a great experience."
Some of the most memorable parts of Ferguson's performance on the series are her interactions with McLaughlin. In real life, Ferguson is actually the older sister among her siblings. "It's kind of fun playing the little sister, and I know how they get annoying," she jokes.
"We both come from a family with siblings," she explains about her dynamic with McLaughlin. "We just have that natural sibling instinct and energy towards each other. He's truly like a big brother to me in real life."
Though "Stranger Things" features a young cast, Ferguson says they're not ones to pull pranks on set. "We're there for work, and we all are so mature and have a mature mindset," she explains. "Off camera, we will joke with each other and be sarcastic with each other, but nothing too extreme to maybe stop production."
For Ferguson, it's been a joy to grow alongside Erica as the character matures during the series. "You saw a little bit of her personality in season two, where she comes off sassy or quick witted, and really in season three, you realize who she is a little bit more," she says. "She is a nerd, but she also gets stuff done. She's very proactive and resourceful."
"As a teenager, what this show really does a good job of representing is that there are going to be obstacles thrown your way," Ferguson says. "In 'Stranger Things,' the obstacle for the teenagers would be the villains or the new evil." She compares her own fears about real-life, teenage situations to what Erica is going through in a given season. "I'm growing with my character as well. We're experiencing the same situations, without the supernatural parts," she explains.
There was a major gap between filming season three — which wrapped in 2018 and aired the next year — and season four, which shot in fits and starts in 2020, thanks to numerous COVID delays. But Ferguson says ultimately, it made her cherish the experience even more. "I was more connected to Erica, because I think I had missed her a lot. And once I'm in that costume, I'm truly just in my zone," she says. She thinks this season's themes of grief and trauma will resonate with viewers after the pain of the pandemic.
Ferguson describes season four as "massive," and she doesn't just mean the episodes' behemoth runtimes. Most of the installments in volume one of the new season clock in around 75 minutes long, with the finale running for 98 minutes — longer than some movies. The eighth and ninth episodes, which will be released July 1, clock in at 85 and 150 minutes, respectively. She calls the nine episodes "a very vulnerable season."
When Ferguson first read the scripts for the new episodes, she was "excited" about where Erica's story would take her, but she's light on any plot details, fearing spoilers. "I think a lot of questions will be answered, and we truly connect with the fans that have grown with the show," she says, referencing viewers who have literally grown up alongside the Hawkins crew. "There will be a character and fan audience connection there."
A major plot point of season four is the involvement of the Hellfire Club, which, despite its foreboding name, is just a group of Hawkins nerds playing Dungeons & Dragons. Ferguson shares that she has played the game in real life, with costar Matarazzo, and she really enjoyed it. "Hopefully, I could maybe do a campaign in the future again, because it was really fun doing it," she says.
Of course, everything in season four is pointing toward the big finale. The season's trailer uses Journey's "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" and says explicitly, "Every ending has a beginning." Ferguson, of course, wouldn't even confirm if Erica makes it out of season four alive, let alone guess what might lie in store for her in the final season if she does.
"I haven't even thought about season five yet," she says. "I think I'm still processing that this is the beginning of the end." She doesn't want to try to predict where Erica could go in the last batch of episodes. "I want it to be a little bit of a surprise to me," she explains. "I think whatever the Duffer Brothers have as an option for Erica might be pretty cool to play around with."
Some fans online have clamored for an Erica spinoff, but Ferguson says she wouldn't want to do a whole Erica series, but she would be interested in a "one-off" movie. "I would definitely say maybe a one-off to see . . . if there's closure, how Erica feels about everything, and maybe what she's up to," she says.
When I ask Ferguson where she thinks Erica will be when she's an adult, she has a clear picture. "I definitely think she'll be telling her kids about what happened, and her and Lucas at a table, like, 'This is what my brother got me into. Let me tell you what happened when we were younger,'" she says, laughing. "The kids are all, 'What? No way!' That would be really fun to actually see."
"Stranger Things" season four is undeniably the scariest and most gruesome yet, introducing the terrifying Vecna. It's a little ironic Ferguson has gotten her big break in the horror genre, since she doesn't consider herself a huge fan. "I get super scared fast, and not even necessarily by jump scares. I think scary for me is more mental," she says, referencing movies like "Us" and "Get Out." "That scares me more than anything. . . . That's what freaks me out more, because it's like, OK, this could really actually happen. Now you're playing with my mind a little bit."
Despite her aversion to onscreen scares, Ferguson's next big project is also horror-themed. She'll star in a movie with Marlon Wayans for Netflix, currently titled "Boo!" In the film, she plays a teen who accidentally unleashes an "ancient and mischievous spirit" on Halloween. She has to team up with her dad (Wayans) to save the day.
Ferguson describes the movie as "very coming-of-age" with the father-daughter relationship at its heart and a good dose of the supernatural on top. "This character is so different than Erica," Ferguson says. "People really get to see me older in this movie, as an actual teenager, and experiencing life and also trying to build a relationship with her dad." Though Netflix has described it as an action-comedy, Ferguson says it also has a real emotional core.
"Boo!" has some real scary moments, but Ferguson says she didn't actually get scared on set.
But when she watched the final product with all the special effects added in, that's when she got a little freaked out. "I'm like, 'Dang, that really happened,'" she says.
Ferguson really enjoyed getting to work with the veteran Wayans. "He's so funny. He's so cool," she says. "He gave a lot of good advice along the way." She says he emphasized the importance of "basically doing your own thing and not caring what people say, but also knowing who you are at the end of the day, and not letting people run over you." Ferguson explains that a difficulty for her at such a young age is making sure she gets her point across "without it being disrespectful." She also credits her "Stranger Things" costar Winona Ryder with sharing her own industry knowledge with the young cast.
As Ferguson's acting career has grown, she's become more interested in other parts of the industry, too. "I never would have expected I would be into directing, or even writing and, I guess, producing and also fashion," she says. "Acting has opened doors to really keep me open-minded about the career aspect of things." Looking to where she wants her career to grow, she's inspired by people like Angela Bassett and Regina King. She also admires the way Rihanna and Zendaya have blazed trails as fashion trendsetters and hopes to emulate them a bit.
Right now, Ferguson doesn't think she has a specific style, though she's very into bohemian looks and Old Hollywood glamour, and she loves to incorporate those ideas into more trendy looks. "It expresses my personality," she says. "I dress by my mood."
"I like to mix a lot of different things together that people might not be expecting," Ferguson explains. She works hard with her stylist to make sure she's still the star of every look they put together and that high-concept outfits don't overwhelm her. "It's still funky and teenager-y, but it's not doing too much. I still have some youthfulness about it," she says.
Looking to the future, Ferguson is also branching out into voice-over work. She's part of the voice cast of Netflix's 2023 series "My Dad the Bounty Hunter," and she recently wrapped another voice-over project. "I like imitating people's voices and making new voices," she says. One genre she hasn't ventured into yet? She'd love to do a superhero film.
On top of being a young actor in Hollywood, Ferguson is also an entrepreneur. She says her production company, Bold Honey, "creates opportunities that center young Black girls and young girls of color, and stories for them.” She’s excited for it to expand and create more opportunities for Black girls to see themselves on screen.
Between school and her burgeoning career, it's a lot for one teenager to have on her plate. When it all gets to be too much, especially the sometimes toxic internet community, she tries to step away. "I truly take a break, and I've gotten more spiritual as I grow," she explains. "I'm really into God. I sit down and I talk to Him about getting me through tough situations." She's not afraid to deactivate her social media accounts and give herself "me time," and she'll often turn to writing or meditating to help keep herself centered. She also tries to incorporate "natural elements," like crystals, into her meditating and prayer practices.
For now, Ferguson's still trying to keep that perfect balance going. So today, she might be promoting the new season of "Stranger Things," but tomorrow, she'll be back at school. She's got her eyes on a new role: a spot on her school's yearbook staff.
Photography: Tawni Bannister Stylist: Sophie Lopez Day of Stylist: Thanda Gibson Hair Styling: Miles Jeffries Braids: Ro Morgan Makeup: Brandy Allen Nails: Erin Moffet Creative Direction: Jae Payne Design: Aly Lim, Patricia O'Connor Post Production: Bonnie Mills Producer: Alex Friedlander, Aisha Rae
Editors: Jada Gomez, Lindsay Miller, Sade Strehlke Copy Editors: Mary White, Bryce Aston Talent Booker: Sam Flinn Consumer Marketing: Victoria Pedlar, Melissa Hayes Editorial Production: Whitney Moore
Blue Look: Dress: Rachel Gilbert, Earrings: Elsie Frieda, Rings: Sara Shala, Bon Bon Whims, Shoes: FILA Green Look: Dress: Giambattista Valli, Earrings: Mayol, Rings: Anabela Chan, Fade to Black, Shoes: Casadei