As we turn our heads to view the history of Disney Channel stars, we typically see a timeline that follows a particular pattern. Child star on the rise, capturing the hearts of millions of youth worldwide and as they reach their late teenage years, they find the common need to individualize themselves, to capture a new character in their maturing lives. Soon, we see the use of illegal paraphernalia, risque actions follow suit, and unfortunately, a child star shining bright in the limelight becomes a burnout image of what we used to idolize. Almost inevitable, it is in a rare case that a few fortunate Disney alum find a way to escape this engulfing fate, the Sprouse Twins being one of them.
Both are commonly recognized for their appearances as Julian in Big Daddy, Ben on F.R.I.E.N.D.S., and Zack and Cody on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody/The Suite Life on Deck. On their hit Disney Channel shows, The Suite Life, Dylan and Cole Sprouse captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of kids. With such a strong acting future ahead of them, the Sprouse twins surprised many by taking a hiatus from the entertainment industry and enrolling into a university, New York University, that is. Slowly fading out of the industry, the twins have discovered passions that lie outside of the entertainment business, broadening their horizons and skills. As seniors this year, the Sprouse twins have found their niche outside of acting, but it isn’t to say that they aren’t recognized anymore. Daily encounters with the Sprouse Twins are just as exciting as any other meeting with a celebrity, which you can view from any fan photo on the streets. Luckily enough, I was able to meet with Cole Sprouse at a quiet cafe to discuss his new passions, life beyond New York, and his possible resurgence in an acting career.
Cole has been noted to have a very eclectic array of majors, ranging from Archaeology to Journalism to Photography and even Anthropology. With all those skills at hand, where does his main interest fall? “Well, my main focus I suppose is archaeology. One of the strengths of Gallatin is that you are able to supplement what you may feel is lacking. I chose something like Journalism because I felt as though my writing really needed a boost. In my first semester, I took a photography class. It was digital photography. I had only taken it so I could learn how to use my camera. I got a camera, because I knew I was going to be going on geological expeditions and I wanted to document them and take pictures of artifacts. I ended up carrying my camera everywhere with me and after that I just started taking pictures. I then started doing things on Instagram that made people happy, but the main purpose of what I study and even my photography is still archaeology. It just so happens that it’s all able to apply to one thing.”
While archaeology and acting are on two different spectrums, Cole has managed to take on both trades in his lifetime. Even though archaeology is the focus now, is there any chance that we may see him return to our television screen? “Ya know, my brother and I get that a lot. Right now, an Italian director that we worked with when we were younger has asked us to do something right out of the gate. But it is quite heavy, and my brother and I, well, we came up in a family that didn’t have much and when you come up in a family that didn’t have much, rarely do you go into something like the entertainment industry and say, “well no, I’m going to stick to the artistic side of it, yes?” So now, I think my brother and I are in a privileged position when it comes to acting. Do I really think we could go back and pick and choose what we do and all that? Ya know, it’s strange, we both came to NYU expecting to fade out, we wanted to fade out, and when you’re on a show, like the Suite Life, you’re very recognizable, but when you’re a twin, it’s extremely hard to get away without being recognized. I get recognized by myself, but when I’m with my brother, since we’re a pair, it’s nonstop. And for the longest time, my brother and I, we wanted that to stop, to cease. And we went to NYU to cut that out, and it still hasn’t. It’s both a blessing and a curse. What it has shown us is that a lot of people want us to get back into the industry and so, as of now, it is a great way to make money, a great way to express yourself. You get to meet a lot of cool people. Do I know for certain that we are going to go back yet, not really, but even if we do go back, we probably won’t do the whole “twin” routine. In fact, a lot of interest has been expressed in us playing separate roles or even the same part, which is interesting. But, nothing is really set in stone.”
And as we have seen for his entire acting career, Dylan and Cole have been a packaged deal. Is there any interest in working with his twin again? “Well, when he is your brother, every day is working, you know what I mean? No, no, yeah of course. Honestly, my brother and I are both very critical, which in the industry, can be quite rare, because people see success and they look at you and ask how can they critique someone who is successful, when in actuality, anyone who is successful or not, needs critiquing. Absolutely. And so, the good thing about having a twin is that I can honestly tell him truly, that something sucks. And he’ll listen and vice verse.”
Even though archaeology is his major, Cole has been known to dabble in the art of photography, from multiple, famous Instragram accounts to beautiful shots he’s taken professionally. From the range of photos he has taken, what seems to be his favorite type of photography? “I think my favorite type, and I think it’s good that you noticed that there are multiple types, but my favorite type is probably fortune photography, and what I mean by that is, you have a camera and something pops up, it’s something unique, and the pieces fit together well enough that a photo can create something amazing. Like, I use HONY as an example. You have this character that just appears and he’s/she’s/it’s unique enough to have it’s picture taken. And it’s only fortune/fate that brought the subject and the photographer together. It was just fortune falling upon the incident and it was someone who said, ok, this deserves to be photographed. So, I like that kind of photography. I used to hate portraits. I think that’s because my brother and I used to be in the industry and we were told to pose, smile, take a stance. I took a real aversion to that. And there are a couple forms of photography that I really hate and it’s that type of posed photography, and I wouldn’t even call it photography, I would call it picture taking, where, it’s like, ok everyone, we’re all here in this moment, let’s take some photos. I think my bias is that my brother and I grew up doing that professionally. I love when something is candid and someone does a funny face. I think that a lot of the network that surrounds me nervously asks if I have any bad photos of them because I’ll post them. I think now, more than ever, with our virtual personalities and how we interact with each other socially, being so predetermined and sought out, or posting this photo or that photo, is giving us a very biased understanding of one another. And when you get a photo that is just atrocious or ugly or unflattering or just honest, whether it’s angry or happy, that’s the best. My first semester when I did a photography class,I ended up getting in a lot of trouble. For one of my projects, I dressed up so you couldn’t tell who I was, and I waited at intersections for taxis. I would just open the door and take photos of the reactions of the people inside the cab. I think everyone plans what’s going to happen, and, well, it’s only in those moments of pure surprise that you get those moments of honesty, that true surprise, really any sort of response. I would rip open the door and take pictures. At first, I thought I would only get fear and I thought, ok, even if it is only fear, that will be fine, because at least it’s honest. But, I got a range of emotions. It was really honest. I even had a lady, she was my favorite, when I did it, she had a child sitting next to her in the seat, and rather than going into mama bear mode, she just looked at me and posed. When I opened the door, she just looked at me and posed.”
With so many talents that Cole has acquired, there is the case of remembrance, how will he be remembered by? Many people will remember him by Disney Channel, it’s inevitable, but is this necessarily a bad thing? What does Cole Sprouse want to be remembered for? “You know it’s funny, I’ve received that question before. A lot of Disney Channel actors and actresses, when they stop working for Disney Channel, they have a real aversion for not wanting to be remembered by Disney Channel. They try and redefine themselves through some type of “Wrecking Ball” performance or drug use, or showing their total wild side, which I think is totally foolish. For one, as a human, you’re lucky enough to be remembered for anything. The very human condition is that most of the time you’re forgotten. So, I don’t mind being remembered by Disney, especially because Disney Channel has brought a lot of joy to a lot of young children, which without a doubt are the people who deserve the joy the most. So, I don’t mind being remembered for that, which usually surprises people. At the end of the day, if you’re remembered for anything, you’re doing something right. Since I was young, I was called Julian from Big Daddy, Ben from Friends, Cody for the Suite Life, and Cole by the people who really know me. You just learn to respond to a bunch of names and different ideas. If I could be remembered for anything though, I would want to be remembered by something that pushes human knowledge or questioning forward. My one thing with acting is that it’s a very superficial thing, it’s a very temporary thing. You make people laugh, cry, etc. and that’s it. Most of the time it stays in just a lifetime, 50 plus years, but after that it dies down. People forget about the actors. One of the reasons I love archaeology is because it gets people asking questions. It’s a huge mystery. And once you get answers, it’s so important enough that people take notice and it moves human knowledge forward, they think a new way about something. You can say you have honestly left a mark, you really did something for an entire understanding for the world. That’s what I want to be remembered for, but, Disney Channel has done me a huge service. People know my name, my face. My social media is definitely lacking, but we’re still being recognized, and it has done me a huge service. So, I don’t mind being remembered for that, but I would still like to be remembered for pushing humanity forward. That’s what I strive to do.”
And living in New York must have helped tremendously with him escaping his Disney Channel fate. “Oh yeah, definitely. And I still think the idea that you are able to study whatever you want is the most helpful thing. My brother and I are still some of the only people on Disney Channel to go to a university. That’s because when you’re in the acting industry and you’re making money and you’re determined as being successful, you have the idea that you don’t need to do anything else, that you don’t need to try anything else, you don’t need to study anything else or take an interest in anything else, because if you continue on doing the same thing, that the fame will keep on rolling in, the money will keep on rolling in and bada bing, you don’t have to do anything else. But, coming to New York was amazing because one, it taught me what a brat I was and how spoiled I was, which was absolutely necessary and being able to study something else showed me what actual fulfillment feels like. Like, the acting industry is great and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and you make a lot of people really happy, but it doesn’t fulfill you as working really hard and studying really hard and getting that good grade off your own back does, all without the assistance of a whole team of cast and crew. Coming to New York has been a fantastic thing. And everyone here doesn’t give a shit. No one cares who you are. If you are a good person, you’re a good person. If you’re an honest person, you’re an honest person. But you can’t get away with showing up and taking off your sunglasses and announcing you’re here to get free shit. And that’s good. No one deserves that. It teaches you nothing. And so the good thing about New York is that no one has that and it makes you strive even harder to have that.”
Now, with all that in mind, with all his majors, his talents, his skills, where does Cole Sprouse want to be in 5, 10, even 20 years from now? “Oh…I think, if I could be in any place in 5, 10, 20 years, I’d wanna be in a place where I’m running something, like a dig, or in a different part of the world and I’m still learning. I think I just want to be uncomfortable. When you are so comfortable, you don’t learn too much anymore. With archaeology, you travel all the time, and when you travel all the time, you’re always uncomfortable, not like nervous, but you’re not in your zone of comfort and so you are so aware of everything. I’d like that. I’d like to be outside of my comfy zone. That would be nice.”
With all of this in place, the world can now see that there is a possibility for a better ending than what we have seen. The Sprouse Twins have found a way for their lives to carry on out of the spotlight, while still maintaining a dignified image of who they are. Congratulations to these tremendous young men and do carry on with all your endeavors.