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Cole Sprouse Opens Up About Growing Up in the Public Eye

Cole Sprouse once left his Disney mouse ears behind for a cap and gown, but he’s recently pulled on another famous hat—or, should we say, crown beanie? Sprouse returned to the small screen this year as the lovably brooding Jughead Jones on Riverdale, the CW’s twisted take on the beloved Archie comics.

If you haven’t heard of the Gossip Girl–meets–Twin Peaks hit, you’re probably the only one. Since its premiere in January, it’s become a cult favorite. If he were any other member of the cast, Sprouse might be overwhelmed with the fame and recognition. But he’s been here before.

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We talked to the 24-year-old about life as a child star with his twin brother, Dylan, weird fan interactions, feminism, and those divisive Riverdale ships.

A lot of the Disney cohort went on to major acting careers and projects right away—what made you choose to go to college and take a different route?

I think regardless of success, all those kids were dealing with a similar dilemma when it came to their maturity and their publicity and fame, and how they were viewed in the public eye. Some people choose sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to come to terms with it. Some people find religion. [College] seemed like the most productive way to prove to people we were coming into ourselves. I was finding out my identity and growing by going to an institution where I could evolve and become more adept at understanding why I was thinking certain things, and how society viewed me.

Acting requires a great amount of empathy for real lived human experiences. I hadn’t lived any real human experiences outside of homeschool and being in a sound stage, and there was really no other option. I couldn’t continue to live in a bubble and hope to be an empathic actor. It doesn’t work. I was really sick of the entertainment industry and wanted to step away. Dylan and I were nonstop—we were being recognized and it was overbearing, and I figured it would be nice to let that dissolve. I didn’t know if I was going to return, and then this project sort of crept up.

Are you enjoying it now that you’re back?

Yeah, it’s fulfilling, and I think that’s the only currency I am looking for right now. As long as it stays fulfilling, I will continue doing it, but the second it stops being fulfilling I’ll leave.

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What does your brother think of ‘Riverdale’?

He supports the show…. I don’t know if he enjoys it. This kind of programming has never really been our flavor of choice. I don’t really want him to watch anything I do and I don’t really watch anything he’ll do. We have a very easy time separating work and play and I wouldn’t really care less if he watched or if he enjoyed it. I don’t really have an easy time watching myself, so I guess I sort of imprint that upon my friends and family.

Originally, you you argued to keep Jughead asexual and aromantic, as he is in the comics. What did those conversations sound like?

When we got the parts, the creative team sat down with the actors and asked how they saw each character. I had argued for a super faithful representation of Jughead as he lives in the comics, which inherently was also me arguing for the aromantic, asexual Jughead. But [they] are two very different versions of the same character in two very different universes.

It’s very strange to me how much attention this [has received]. I am an actor. I have an idea of what I see for the character and I can express that idea and that opinion, but ultimately it is out of my hands. If this were a different kind of programming or it were my show, it would probably look a little bit different, but the commercial success of Riverdale and how people are talking and liking it shows that we’ve gone in a direction that makes a lot of sense and works.

It’s one of those things that needs representation but has not been properly represented. It’s something I still fight for and it’s something I fought for about the second season, but ultimately it’s not in my court. I guess we will see where the narrative takes us.

Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper and Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones

Lili Reinhart (Betty) and Cole Sprouse (Jughead) in ‘Riverdale’

Dean Buscher/The CW

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