Cole Sprouse, star of CW’s supercharged Archie Comics adaptation Riverdale, nurses a sly self-awareness that most child stars lose somewhere along the way. “I was never boxed in. It’s silly to even think I was boxed in,” he quickly volleys back when asked about the negative byproducts of growing up in the funhouse mirror that is Hollywood. “The opportunity I got to work in that environment was great. It’s just that after doing it for eight years, you have to learn what parts to take and what not to,” he adds, referring to his nearly decade-long Disney Channel run with his identical twin Dylan.
To a certain generation, Cole and Dylan were the male analogs to Mary-Kate and Ashley, serving cuteness with preternatural comedic timing in 1999’s Big Daddy which led to full-blown Disney stardom on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Suite Life on Deck. But his role as the omniscient narrator and brooding best friend Jughead on Riverdale has already eclipsed Sprouse’s juvenilia.
Like the character of Jughead, Sprouse stands out from the garden-variety hot people around him by outsmarting the system. While social media adds a layer of exposure unknown to previous generations of young actors, Sprouse subverts it (his Instagram account @camera_duels captures fans’ attempts to sneakily photograph him) and uses it to his advantage. “I think studios recognize that it’s fundamental to integrate social media into the success and the hype of a show,” he says. “Because the belief in a character is based on humanity and empathy, and I think all of us realize that we have to sell a little bit of that belief on social media. But it’s still kind of a wild west.”
And like Jughead, there’s more to Sprouse than meets the eye. Even at Disney—that “Vaudevillian,” “very loud” acting school, in his words—he was attracted to dark, cerebral storytelling. “I grew up with a poster of The Twilight Zone’s [narrator and writer] Rod Serling,” he says of his inspiration for Jughead. He’s also a photographer, recently shooting Sam Smith for the cover of L’Uomo Vogue.
With the CV of a Hollywood veteran and substance beyond his years, Sprouse’s potential is limitless. But like any good Millennial, he refuses to be boxed in: “I think if the work is quality then the work is quality. It doesn’t matter if it’s small or big screen.”
Main image credit: Evaan Kheraj