We Should All Enjoy The Second Coming Of Cole Sprouse

28 July 2019
Cole Sprouse, Friends, Disney child star
Images: Kelia Anne
After a stint as a Disney child star, Cole Sprouse almost became an archaeologist. Now he’s back on TV – and using his second tour in the biz to have the weirdest, meme-iest, most self-reflexive career he can

Cole Sprouse is waiting for me at an LA bar. It’s a low-key artists’ hang in an industrial zone – not where you’d look for a TV star like Sprouse, 26, but where he fits nonetheless. Sprouse and I head to the quiet back patio, and he lights a cigarette. His dirty-blond hair is dyed jet-black for his role as Jughead on Riverdale, the Twin Peaks–y series set in the Archie Comics universe. The show has just wrapped its third season – a fourth is on the way – and Sprouse is a breakout. But he’s accustomed to the weird aura of fame: He’s had enough time in the spotlight to figure out which parts suit him and which don’t.

Sprouse and his twin brother, Dylan, started acting at eight months old. Cole appeared on Friends (as Ross’s son, Ben), and both brothers shared a role in Big Daddy (alongside Adam Sandler and Scuba Steve). Their Disney Channel tween comedy, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, made them celebrities. As they grew older, they became conscious that they were working actors supporting a family and felt obligated to continue. “Many of the jobs we were taking kept my small family afloat, so there was this constant pressure to secure jobs, which in turn were money,” Sprouse recalls. But eventually he wanted a break. So at 19, he did about the most radical thing a young star can do. He went to college.

Cole Sprouse
Shirt, $1100, Dior Men. Tank top, $149, Boss. Pants, $1790, Dsquared. Watch, $18,500, Breguet. Necklace, $215, David Yurman. Bracelet, $160, A.P.C. Opposite: Turtleneck, $1030, Prada. Sunglasses, $300, Moscot

Higher education, Sprouse says, is “frowned upon within the industry” because it “halts momentum”. But that was exactly what he was looking for. “I went to school and sort of reconciled who I was and tried to find my own little path through the world outside of acting,” he explains. He enrolled at N.Y.U., where he studied archaeology, focusing on what he describes as “early-stone-tool tech”. Over drinks, he discusses the subject breathlessly, though his undergrad exposure was hardly glamorous. “You’re kind of just an unpaid intern who’s washing sediment and emptying the latrine.” Sprouse took up photography in those New York years, too, and he was plenty happy – working in a Brooklyn lab after graduation, preparing to go to grad school. It’s easy to imagine Sprouse’s life had he followed that path: He’d started booking gigs shooting fashion photos. But despite his best efforts, his previous, more famous life intervened. His manager asked him to give acting one more shot: Riverdale, a project Sprouse liked enough to audition for. And so Cole Sprouse became famous again – this time on his terms. There’s the character, to start. Riverdale’s update of Jughead Jones from a burger-loving beatnik to a brooding writer in love with Betty Cooper is a big reason the hit works as well as it does. Sprouse is the perfect dreamboat for his moment – analytical, self-aware, and willing to play his own hotness for camp. When we meet, he’s dressed casually, in a jean jacket with a shearling collar over a white t-shirt, but he sports his classic uniform the way he does almost everything else: with intention and a half dose of irony. Sprouse says his personal style was inspired first by his father, “very much influenced by a kind of working-class, little bit more archaic definition of masculinity.”

Cole Sprouse

It’s fitting that a guy who adores and unpacks ’50s style would end up on a show full of ’50s tropes turned inside out. But it’s more than the clothes that make him right for the role. Sprouse is a guy with ideas about the “archaic definitions of masculinity” and one with sympathy for Jughead. “Here’s this kid writing about all the people he’s close to,” Sprouse says of his and showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s approach to the character. “I want him to feel sort of like a hipster and a little bit pretentious and self-serving. He’s got some social anxiety.”

While Sprouse’s first bout with stardom came before Instagram, his second is, by necessity, fuelled by it. He gamely plays the famous actor, shooting selfies to his 22 million followers, with a second Instagram account dedicated to snapping fans in the act of trying to sneak photos of him. The kid who gave up a career to study ancient stone tools is still an eager student, but now his field is something closer to what it’s like to be young and famous a second time.

Cole Sprouse
Jacket, $3200, pants, $990, Dior Men. Sweater, $1235, The Elder Statesman. Boots, $3490, Tom Ford. Necklace, $2700, David Yurman. Bracelet, $160, A.P.C. Opposite: Sweater, $850, Marni. Watch, $9300, Glashütte. Bracelet, $160, A.P.C.

Despite his eagerness to both share and subvert his fame, Sprouse doesn’t want to put it all out there. “I think social media and the Internet reward extremes,” he explains, “I’m a firm believer that a lot of that experimentation should be done in private. Ultimate privacy.” Spoken like someone who, the second time in the spotlight, understands the power of withholding information. And spoken, not incidentally, like a true Jughead.

Words: Molly Lambert
Photography: Kelia Anne
Stylist: Mobolaji Dawodu
Grooming: Carissa Ferreri for the Wall Group