There is so much to say about the infamous child star narrative: too much success and fortune at a young age leading to disruptive, bad luck in adulthood. This trajectory within the entertainment industry has been solidified throughout history.
Then we meet Cole Sprouse. One of the most successful Disney channel stars from the mid 2000's. Along with his brother, Dylan, the two are some of the most profitable childhood stars to date. The Suite Life of Zach and Cody became more than a Disney show, it turned into an empire with merchandise, novels, movies, and even three Emmy nominations. So, historically speaking, after these ten years, we would be lead to believe Cole is past his prime. But matter of fact, the opposite is true.
Cole is in Vancouver, British Columbia when we speak. He has left New York City after 5 years of academia, artistry and absolutely nothing to do with the entertainment business. Why Vancouver? His return to acting. Sprouse has landed the part of Jughead on the new television series Riverdale, based on the legendary Archie Comics.
“I didn’t have an anticipation I would return at all,” he tells me. His new gig was a spur of the moment and random happening. Sprouse was about to start his new job as a collections assistant at a cultural resource management lab in Brooklyn. After studying archaeology at NYU, his return to acting was not on his mind in the slightest. His manager called him one morning during pilot season and wanted him to come out to LA and give it another shot. He traveled west per her request and read for Riverdale. He landed the role. He wanted to follow through with earnest intent and told his manager he would see the job through. “That’s sort of where I am right now. I have not been as heavy about acting as I once was. This is a brand new experience for me. I tried to disassemble what it means to return to acting, but I’m trying to drop all of that stigma.”
Cole’s maturity and sense of self permeated throughout our discussion. His choice to attend university was his way to escape the childhood image of himself. “When you are working your entire youth, going back to school is important because you acclimate to society, you acclimate to yourself. I think that needs to be an industry standard to be honest.” Sprouse’s time at school, in New York City, was a “coming to terms” with the fact that we all try rebel against the image of ourselves when we were younger. “We have ways of rebelling against it, some people rebel quite a big harder. Some people go to school, some people travel the world, some people find religion. Diving into archeology and photography was an exploration of self-discovery.”
Cole’s passions and studies seemed to have profoundly impacted the way he thinks and lives his life. His ardent relationship to photography has changed the way he has seen himself and the world around him. “I was raised around cameras, so the actual operation of the camera came naturally. I studied a bit on school, and carried a camera around with me for a long time. When I left college, I anticipated that was the career I was going to throw myself into. I spent so many years in front of the camera as a child, I kind of felt as if I needed to give back in some sort of creative way.”
Luckily enough, Cole was able to give back in a prolific way. Social media, (undoubtedly his popular Instagram account, currently clocking in at 3.5 million followers) has given him a platform to share his photography with the public. The digestible nature of social media has given people a more profound understanding of Cole: the way he is thinking and how he views the world. Social media has given him the opportunity to debunk the characterization of him as solely a Disney child star. “I want to give people a multi-faceted view of myself- over all my social outlets. I realized that a lot of celebrities were using social to advertise. I don’t want to treat my fans like consumers or customers. That put a sour taste in my mouth. We treat social media outlets as if the audience is to be capitalized upon, consumed, digested, so we vomit this advertising upon them. But when you give people the opposite, they really take to it, and it’s fun.”
Cole gives the opposite to advertising on social. Lush fashion photography and beautiful landscapes fill his feed. A world traveler, his eye is attracted to human reactions to nature. His goal? “To inspire empathy with an audience.” After spending most of his time in LA and NYC, he believes those in urban environments long to thrust themselves into opposite situations. Traveling is an attempt to ground ourselves, find out what makes us privileged or what gives us comfort, “undoing those with my photography would be great.”
Sprouse attributes his exposure that came with his fashion and fine art photography to his renewed interest to see himself on screen. “Once I realized my desire for people to interact with my own lenses, I realized how I should interact with the lenses, in a more complex relationship- that sort of turned me back around.”
Sprouse’s poise and conviction in himself makes his return to acting a low-pressure affair. His fervor for things outside of acting allow him to enjoy acting for what it is now, and only now. “I don’t want to question it all that much. To be honest, my relationship with acting and the entertainment business is different than most people’s because I have been in it for such a long time. It is something that is very fluid for me. If I continue to enjoy it, I will do it. The second it stops being fun and fulfilling, I will leave. I feel privileged to be in that position.”
Fortunately, Cole’s experience as a childhood star has made him a young man with deep insights and rational perspective. “My relationship with acting is now very respectful. It’s like an older lover. The time has healed all wounds between me and my ex-lover.”