Cole Sprouse is the operator of three Instagram accounts: the first, under his own name, is mostly a collection of his photography; the second,”sprousemasterworks,” showcases fan art of the actor to some 117,000 followers; and the third, called “camera_duels,” is comprised of photos Sprouse took of people trying to take his pictures (got that?).
The demand for such an online presence might seem far flung for a young TV actor, but Sprouse is in a unique position: despite being at the beginning of launching an adult acting career, he had a passionate, rooted fan base from his childhood fame as a Disney star from the network’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” which he refers to as the “original sitcom.”
“The goal for me to go to college, and my brother as well, was to fade out,” Sprouse says, having arrived early and sans-publicist to his photo shoot in Manhattan. “It’s no new narrative to say that when people get out of child stardom, they often times rebel in very serious ways. I didn’t want to make that public spectacle. So part of the reason I went to college was that I wanted to fade out peacefully, show everybody I had gone through something that was quite challenging and difficult, but did so with grace and poise and got an education.…By the end of it what I hadn’t interpreted was the rise of social media, which kind of kept my brother and I alive in strange, underground sub-circles.”
Hence the trifecta of Instagram handles. Now 24 and a recent graduate of NYU’s archaeological sciences program, Sprouse is making a return to acting with his first role in five years, in “Riverdale,” out Jan 26, the CW’s dark and broody take on the classic Archie comic series. Given that Sprouse was intent on never returning to acting, the bar was high for the project that lured him back. “At first when I received the script for the Archie show, I was immediately turned off,” he says. “But in more recent years, Archie comics have tried to stray away from the ‘golly, shucks Arch, let’s go to the sock hop’ thing.”
Sprouse was working in an archaeology lab in Brooklyn a year ago when his manager sent him the script. Originally asked to read for Archie, he instantly gravitated toward Jughead, who is the show’s narrator. “He’s very much an outsider,” he says. “He has a pretty unique perspective because he’s seeing the town and the friendship and the friendships that are forming from a more objective point of view. He eavesdrops, he listens, he’s the guy with the camera, snooping, sleuthing, and in that way, he’s distanced himself from a lot of the people in the town, through his own fear of being vulnerable and his inability to cope with people.”
Getting inside the head of the mysterious outsider proved to be just the challenge Sprouse was looking for.
“Disney is very much a child’s theater — it’s a very specific kind of acting. It’s loud and boisterous with the goal to draw the attention of children and keep the attention of children, and it can kind of be cheesy and loud, and I had to unpack a lot of that, because as an actor you kind of internalize, and you basically become a character,” he says. “I lived a kind of ‘Truman Show,’ after the original sitcom, and going back into it just brought back a lot of emotions and childhood memories that I did not realize I was still capable of accessing. But it feels good — this is a little more on my pace. It feels brand new again.”