“I was bagging artifacts,” says Sprouse, who is now 27. “And I got a call from my manager, who begged me to come back and audition for pilot season.” Sprouse made a deal. “If I don’t book anything, then I’m not going to do this anymore,” he recalls telling his manager. “And I gave her my word that if I did book something, I’d see it through. I booked ‘Riverdale,’ and it ended up tugging me back.”
Sprouse tells this story between cigarette breaks while sitting on the “Riverdale” set in Vancouver. The show, a fantastical teen soap based on “Archie Comics,” became an instant hit for The CW Network when it debuted in the winter of 2017. Sprouse’s role as the sardonic narrator Jughead — traditionally seen with his trademark crown-shaped beanie — has allowed him to reinvent himself as an actor in his 20s. This year, he starred in his first grown-up film, “Five Feet Apart,” as a man with cystic fibrosis who falls in love with a patient down the hall. The drama, distributed by CBS Films in March, became a sleeper hit, grossing almost $46 million at the domestic box office.
“It’s very difficult to make the jump from Disney child star to serious leading man in Hollywood,” says Justin Baldoni, the director of “Five Feet Apart.”
On “Riverdale,” Sprouse was invited to audition for the role of the lead, Archie. He instead asked for the outcast part. “I said this is a little bit more my style,” Sprouse says. “And I just kind of read it like Rod Serling,” he says, referring to the narrator of “The Twilight Zone.” Initially, Jughead was supposed to be a marginal presence. But when producers saw Sprouse’s interpretation — “almost like an actor doing a Harold Pinter play,” remembers Aguirre-Sacasa — they broadened his role.
In the second episode, Jughead joins Archie (K.J. Apa) and his inner circle, sipping milkshakes at the diner with Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes). His flavor of choice? “Coffee, which just gets me amped.”
“I’m somewhat of a workaholic,” Sprouse says. “Maybe that’s my child-star brain, where I just can’t stop thinking about being a commodity.”
Dylan thinks that Cole could become “a great cinematographer or director.” When he’s not acting, Cole sidelines as a professional photographer, shooting spreads for magazines and fashion brands like Moncler, which sent him to Iceland for a campaign. “Most of the people that I speak to initially don’t know him from his acting,” says his photography agent, Glenn Wassall, who represents Annie Leibovitz. He describes Sprouse’s aesthetic as “fashion within landscape,” as in a portrait of a woman bundled in a glamorous coat against a backdrop of ice-covered mountains.
Cole could see himself working again with Dylan, who has also gone back to acting, with an indie film, “Tyger Tyger,” out next year. “We’ve talked about it,” Cole says, adding that it wouldn’t be a reboot or a reunion for Disney. “The whole kitschy twin thing, I don’t think that really sells anymore.” He explains what would convince them: “It’s about feeling passionate for acting again. If it’s a cool project, I don’t have a problem with that.”