EVERYDAY PEOPLE: CATCHING UP WITH COLE SPROUSE
We’re sure you’ve all heard of the famous Disney shows, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, or The Suite Life on Deck, which was a continuation of the original Suite Life series. Twins, Dylan and Cole Sprouse, stole the hearts of millions in their roles of Zach and Cody, respectively. One of our Senior Journalists, Brindy Fancis, got to chat with one of the suitest of them all: Cole Sprouse.
All photos were taken by the legendary Antoine Verglas in New York City this past weekend and styled by our Chief Consultant, Christel Langué. Now, let’s see what Cole’s been up to.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: What are the top five things you have taken away from your experience at NYU?
Cole Sprouse: The first one was definitely learning how to speak to people and understanding what it is like to be a part of a society. Both my brother, Dylan, and I were weird when we came in. It’s because the system we were raised within was so different from most everyone else. It took me a long time to be able to speak to someone. It took me until college really, because the only topics I knew were traffic and work. It was a weird thing for a child to try and relate to another child about. I guess when we got into college, everyone else was sort of on the same work kind of wavelength or the “Hey! I’m an adult now!” wavelength. I’m not suggesting by any means that I was mature. I’m suggesting that I just had no frame of reference on how to speak to anybody. People, because I was a celebrity, had the understanding that I may be cool, so that worked in my favor I guess. That really disassembled a lot of the inherent awkwardness of my being. That was the biggest thing I took away. I think the second thing I took away was kind of cynicism. I think the third was a drive or a real yearning for academia. There’s something about the system, especially at NYU, but probably most universities, that end up conditioning you to enjoy the pressure of constant deadlines. It validates you. Number four, I guess I found a sense of self. I had the ability to study whatever I wanted, which is a privilege that I had to work my whole life for. It really opened my eyes to the exact kind of person I was. When you’re given the opportunity to choose what you want to be, the thing that you usually end up being is the thing that makes the most sense to you as a person. That was it. I knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to stop acting through life and stop acting through adventures and go on them realistically. I wanted to experience life outside of the sound stage. I feel a lot more aware of my environment, you know? University doesn’t teach you how to be smart. That’s a really important thing that I learned when I went through NYU. All of the intelligence you have, you’ve had your entire life. University just teaches you how to be aware of the different sizes of the argument. That awareness lends itself to intelligence and lends itself to being a smart person or an aware person. And so I guess I took ‘awareness’ out of it.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: So overall, your experience was enjoyable?
Cole Sprouse: Oh, I’m so glad I went to university! You know, my brother and I were some of the only Disney stars that got to higher education for four years and actually graduated and dedicated ourselves to it. I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s so necessary for me as an adult now, if I can call myself that, to understand what I was when I was younger and understand who I am now and be able to just educate myself on my own terms and conditions. A lot of child stars don’t have the choice to do a lot of that stuff. They don’t think education is necessary, but it is.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: What was it like taking a break from the entertainment industry to become a full-time student?
Cole Sprouse: Well, it was interesting. One of the reasons my brother and I went to NYU was so that we could fade out a little bit. When we went into college, we were eighteen. We couldn’t walk around anywhere. It made us feel nervous, paranoid, and awkward. Disney, probably more than most other channels is a huge launching platform. It’s massive, but it’s a family audience, so every generation knows your name and your face. That’s the children, the parents that watch the children, the older siblings, and even the grandparents. Dylan and I had a very hard time walking around. I thought that if we go to school for four years, people will leave us alone by the end of it. We thought we would be able to just step silently through society like we had anticipated. That didn’t happen. That didn’t happen because I didn’t anticipate the power of social media. When this happened, we didn’t have Twitter or Instagram. We were completely off social media, but it ended up keeping my brother and I alive. It’s a double-edged sword because it’s a blessing and a curse to be recognized and to be simultaneously without anonymity. That could be a good and a bad thing. I’m not going to explain why that is the case. It feels like there was no break. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. You’re always reminded of what you were. This is not unique for someone who is in the entertainment industry. Everyone is reminded of what they once were. It was nice, at the very least. Disney is a different kind entertainment industry. It’s an entertainment industry aimed at entertaining children, which is a very specific thing. It’s almost theatrical. It’s loud, boisterous, sort of abrasive, and in your face. I guess going to university helped me take time to disassemble the way I was acting and my acting style was trained and conditioned from a very specific point of view and a bias. Education taught me that acting is not child’s theatre. That’s a really important thing to know. A lot of kids that come out of the Disney society end up taking that children’s theatre approach to later roles that they do. Being around all different kinds of people and all different kinds of disciplines and different kinds of acting styles and so forth, from an entertainment industry’s point of view, is necessary. You need to see it and you need to understand it. So, it was good. I would recommend going away for school for every actor and every actress. It’s such a rare thing to do, but it’s so necessary. It teaches you all the skills you may be lacking.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: I see! And from that, you can probably turn those skills into something else! What has the transition between child actor and photographer been like?
Cole Sprouse: It’s interesting that I’m being called a photographer now. That’s something recent for me, I have to be honest. First off, I think it’s really easy to be called a photographer now-a-days. It’s because everyone has an Instagram account. Photography is kind of like a game with big guns. You can get yourself a really nice camera with a really nice lens and take really good photos. That’s it. You can be an amateur and post yourself online and get a lot of followers and be called a photographer. It’s important for me to declare that the work I’m showing you guys is built upon a fan-base I already had accepting and acknowledging that they like my photos. That’s not necessarily validation, so I have to make that very clear. To be called a photographer is something interesting in the modern day because for so many people, it doesn’t make sense. It’s nice to hear people call me a photographer, but I would never call myself one. The transition is one to one. People can call me whatever they want. At the end of the day, if the stuff that I’m shooting makes them think that they want to call me a photographer, that’s wonderful. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I am a ‘child star’ or a ‘photographer’. It’s whatever people want to call me.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: What would you call yourself?
Cole Sprouse: I’m an archaeologist. I studied archaeology. That’s the profession I want to be in and that’s what I want to be understood as. Photography started as a hobby for me. I realize now that I can monetize it. That’s good. It’s become a way that I can really express myself and use some photojournalism at the same time. It’s really hard to call yourself anything. That’s not because it’s like an existential crisis. It’s like calling yourself an ‘artist’. It’s a very weird thing. You’re not really supposed to do that. I will say it is very flattering that people started to call me a photographer. It’s like, the currency of a poet is only the validation from other poets. If another photographer looks at your work and goes, “Wow, dude, you’re a photographer.”, that’s great! That means, you know, you’re in the club. I really appreciate when people say that because it’s some form of validation but I don’t know if I’d call myself that because it seems like I’m bragging or I’m narcissistic, which I am. I’m incredibly narcissistic. I’m getting used to it is all, which you can tell by how uncomfortable I am by that entire answer. I will say it is quite odd being called a child star. I guess it’s something everybody has to get used to in order to work in the industry when they’re younger. It implies that you were a star once and you’re not really subject to the same forces, which I would prefer! I’ll be honest. I went away to school to try and distance myself from that industry. I didn’t want that relevance anymore. I really didn’t. The implication of something like ‘child star’ is that it happened to you once and it no longer happens, which is just not the case. My brother and I still can’t really walk around together on the street. The anonymity is still not there. It’s also like a strange mortality thing. People want to believe that which was once nostalgic for them remains the same. The reality is that all these kids that used to act in these favorite shows of yours grow up and go through the same weird shit that you’re going through. That’s kind of hard for people to grasp. It causes a lot of my peers, and I’m not going to drop names specifically, to rebel in an attempted maturity, to do these crazy acts, and to show the audience that, “Hey! I’m an adult now! Check me out! I’m no longer this anymore. I’m this.” Essentially, it conditions you to yearn for maturity. It causes a lot of people who are within that industry damage. I see it because that narrative of the child stars is a damaged individual. The narrative of someone who was raised in that system is messed up. A lot of the time, my brother and I, when we speak to people, they are constantly like, “Wow! You’re really well spoken” or, “Wow! You’re quite normal.” They think this will be a compliment. It’s not! It’s not a compliment at all. The understanding is that you’re going to be a very weird, upset, strange person and that you’ve proved them wrong.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: We’re going to veer off the serious topics real fast. If you can come up with a quick playlist from the top of your head, what songs would you choose?
Cole Sprouse: The song that I always come back to the most is Jigsaw Falling Into Place by Radiohead. It’s a song that not only vaults nostalgia for me, but has withstood the test of time for my musical tastes. Clair de Lune holds a very special place in my heart and always evokes a very strong reaction. A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash. Águas de Março has been one I have been recently getting into. It’s beautiful. And oh! Of course. The Girl From Ipanema by Frank Sinatra. How could I forget? Always gotta have some Frankie.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: Classics. What has it been like working and growing with all sorts of other actors?
Cole Sprouse: Like any other business. What a lot of people don’t understand is how normal it is. From the outside of the industry, you are given a narrative. It’s like the Oscar’s. You see this wonderful event and all of these actors and high society artistic folk. It’s a beautiful event held once a year and so forth. First off, it’s the most masterbatory event in the world. I can’t think of something more silly. Here’s the thing. The society in charge of public opinion is the media: actors or writers or directors. They’re the ones telling you that acting and entertainment is amazing. Take that with a grain of salt. When you’re actually in it and you’ve done it your whole life, it looks like every other business you can do. It’s the same kind of small society of people who are slightly competitive, but still have a respect for one another. It’s still just an industry. A lot of people, when they ask that question, what they want to hear is, “Oh, you should’ve heard the scandal!” No. It’s really like every other industry. That shouldn’t be, to an aspiring actor, something of a dream-killer. That should be something that makes you feel more comfortable. The more you hype it up from the outside, the stranger it’s going to be when you get in. You’re going to have to start disassembling everything. You’re going to have to sort of tear down these romantic pillars you yourself had constructed. Normal is my answer. Very normal.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: Did it ever get old being on so many seasons of the Suite Life.
Cole Sprouse: Sure, but it was money. Like I mentioned, it was business. My brother and I don’t come from much. My dad’s automotive repair and my mom’s side of the family was also not well off. We’ve been in the industry since we were eight months old. That wasn’t because when we were eight month old babies, we were like, “I want to be a star!” That’s because… we needed money! We worked our whole lives and it put us into college. It gave us the ability to do what we do now, so I’m profoundly thankful for that. So yeah, it’s a business. Everyone on set was thankful for every season that we got. Disney’s interesting because a lot of kids come out of it and they slam Disney. They’re like, “Yeah, whatever. They treated me like crap!” They gave you a job, you got to work, and you got to be around awesome people, which is cool! I mean, I had a good time. I met some of the strongest people in my life, I would say. It’s just acting. Again, it’s just a business, dude.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: So, it was casual. Well, everyday, you probably had someone to look up to. Who inspires you the most and why?
Cole Sprouse: I don’t know if I have a specific name. I think people who specifically are capable of speaking out in scenarios when an entire group of people are against them is who inspires me. It sounds cliche to say, but it’s a very attractive thing to see someone who notices something isn’t right and speaks out against it, even when they’re the only person in the room who believes that. It’s offensive, yeah! It can piss a lot of people off. But it’s powerful. I like seeing people who take a unique path. It was kind of what inspired my brother and I to go to University. We found out no one we knew was doing this, we realized we were role models for a lot of children, and so we thought, “This might be a really good thing for people to see.” It became necessary for us to not only go through it and put ourselves in dorming and stuff like that and actually survive. I really just admire people who have it quite hard and still get out okay. My father had a horrifying childhood and he’s still somewhat mentally stable. It’s the little things, you know?
WRITTEN CITIZEN: If we were in the day of life with Cole Sprouse, what would we experience?
Cole Sprouse: I guess it would depend on which day of week. I try to make time with my brother at least once a day. I wake up in the morning. Sometimes I go to boxing. Sometimes I just wake up and roll around a little bit in my own filth. There’s a whole lot of studying to do right now. It would be quite boring for you to see. I try to do photography at least once a day. I wander around either location scouting or taking photos of other people. A lot of my location scouting is trespassing places. For a long time, I really was looking for spaces where no one else was because I didn’t want to be recognized or have to react with anyone. That pushed me right towards urban exploration. So, if you were with me on a day where I was location scouting, we would be doing some kind of scary stuff.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: Speaking of your photography, what do you really enjoy about it and who are some people you’ve enjoyed working with?
Cole Sprouse: I definitely like being behind the camera. It’s really given me an opportunity to see the other side of it. I love photography. It started as a way just to document travels and it became kind of a hobby that I realized I could explore and express myself through. Honestly, my biggest inspirations are the people who are all over my Instagram page: Natalie Fong, Sophie, Elliot. It’s all people and photographers my age developing their styles. That’s important because it can be quite easy to have photographic heroes. It can be really easy to look at those photos that they take and see nothing wrong with them. You idolize them blindly. You can do that with actors, entertainers, or anybody in the business that you want to be in. It can be so easy to love them so much because they are already established professionals that you can’t see all the places that they’re wrong. However, when you’re with other people who are your own age and are doing what you’re doing and you’re all making mistakes together, it’s so much healthier. It reminds you that it’s a process and not something prodigal. Sure, Tiger Woods could hit a ball when he was shitting in diapers, but he was still put in that system. My biggest inspirations are the people who are my own age and that I shoot next to and that I use for my photography as well. I’ve developed my style tremendously because of the people I hang around. No one has an entirely unique style. That’s something mythical. You’re always pulling off a discourse that’s already in existence and you’re just using it to embolden your own work. I don’t really like photographing people; I’ll be honest. The recent stuff I’ve been posting is almost only people. That’s something quite new to me. It’s also something I only really do in the city. I’m in the city so often that I don’t really have the choice. I prefer landscape stuff. I prefer objects that are not human. Objects, places, things that have a voice as a subject. The only portrait stuff I like taking is when I travel and there’s an interesting story. I’m not a big fan of fashion photography. Just being straight up. There’s nothing about it that appeals to me. The only reason I would end up doing fashion photography is because the city makes such a strong business out of fashion photography that most of the photographers in this city are fashion photographers. They’re the ones getting paid. If I could get paid in photography to travel, to do photojournalism, and it’s still my hobby, that’s what I would do. That’s much more enjoyable. It’s way more interesting to me. There’s a story. Sometimes, I find myself trying to photograph stories. What I don’t hope reads through my work is sexuality at all. One of the things I was scared of when I started shooting beautiful women was that the fans were going to complicate me being a man into the situation. That’s what I try to stay away from. I started photography because I wanted to shoot archaeology and hopefully I can show really how the past interacts with the present through my photography. I like decaying things. I like dying buildings. I like dilapidated structures.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: We all know you have a pretty large fanbase. What is it like?
Cole Sprouse: It’s a blessing and a curse. I handle all my social media accounts very differently. My Instagram pages are all different from one another. They’re different from my Twitter. They’re all different. Some are funny and some are serious. They all have different amounts of followers as well. For some reason, I have a lot of Twitter. First off, I started Twitter way too late. I started that shit in like 2011. I did not jump on the bandwagon. Part of the reason I handle these social media accounts the way I do is because I don’t know the normal way how to handle these things. I guess it’s not normal to do things like camera_duels or something or it’s not normal to post things on Twitter to make people laugh. Now that I follow some celebrity accounts, it’s just advertising. They’re just selling shit all the time. That’s horrible! I hate that! Having a big following is a good and a bad thing. For someone who really wants and idolizes the fame and aspect of it, it’s great! You always have to have an audience. It’s the thing that’s kept my brother and I in semi-relevance that we may or may not enjoy. I guess it’s nice to be known, but it’s one of those things that I don’t really care about too much. My fanbase is younger, which is nice, because it means that as I age, they age as well. That also means that they see all the weird sides of your growth. Like, if someone had a camera in front of your face the whole time you went through puberty, that would be such a weird experience for you. I’m so glad I didn’t have Twitter when that was happening because just the string of consciousness wouldn’t been rotten. It’s good and bad! You want it to happen in certain places and you don’t want it to happen in others. When I’m in the bathroom, not a place I want to take a picture.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: Do you have any good fan stories then?
Cole Sprouse: This one is my absolute favorite. My brother and my father and I were in Northern California in a place called Mammoth Mountain. It’s a ski resort. At the time, there was really only one good restaurant. There was a place called “Chart House.” We go in and right away, the guy behind the counter is like, “Oh. I know you guys. My kids love you. Hey, I got a table for you right now!” We’re like, “Okay?” Usually we say no to that kind of stuff because it feels very weird to have like families of people sitting and us go. It’s just an awkward thing. Anyway, the guy was persistent. He sat us down at a beautiful table right next to a fire a fire pit but it was smack in the middle of the restaurant. The second we sat down, everyone knew. Then, I’m like, “Urg, I got to go to the bathroom” and I get up and about sixteen other kids get up with me. So, I start walking to the bathroom and I’m praying it’s a one-person stall. I open the door and sure enough, there are rows of toilets. I go down because I’m going number two. I hate to be so ‘vulgar’, but I need to go poo. I sit down on the toilet. It’s a timer. I’m just waiting for these kids to bust down the door. Sure enough, about two minutes pass. These young boys run in like, “Hahaha where is he?” I don’t know what to do so I lift my legs up so they can’t be seen underneath the crack of the stall. One goes, “Hey Jimmy, hey Jimmy. Let’s go and find him!” So they send out like a little scout. At this point, I’m just like “What the hell is going to happen?” One by one, you can see these little kids’ feet and it’s like these light up Sketchers. He goes from stall to stall to stall and then he gets to mine. Through the crack of the stall, I lock eyes with an eight year old, okay? Now I’m sitting on the toilet in my most vulnerable face and I’ve never felt more naked in my life. Of course, when he locks eyes with me, it’s a deer in the headlights. We lock eyes and we’re engaged in battle. So what feels for about fifteen f***ing minutes, this kid and I are staring at each other. All of a sudden, he just turns around, walks back to his friends, and goes, “We gotta go.” I guess the moral of the story is if you don’t want people to take pictures of you, go to the bathroom and show them the sides of yourself you never wanted anyone to see.
WRITTEN CITIZEN: *laughs* Okay. Lastly, what are you going to do next?
Cole Sprouse: Well, I’m taking my GRE and I’m applying to grad-schools. But it depends. I have a lot of things that I really enjoy doing and if one of those things takes off, that’s great! If my photography takes off, perfect! I can do that. I would love to end up doing more photojournalistic photography, documentary stuff, travel photography, that sort of thing. I’m aiming for this internship with this National Geographic photographer around the corner and I really hope that works out. You might see me acting. You might see some of my writing. You never know!
WRITTEN CITIZEN: Perfect! Well, if you want to add anything or have any questions, feel free to talk away!
Cole Sprouse: Why did you guys interview me?
WRITTEN CITIZEN: Good question! Well, we look for talented youth. We look for people our age who can relate to our readers; we know a lot of people our age really look up to you or at least know who you are.
Cole Sprouse: That being said, the second you start idolizing someone in the industry, you create a dichotomy between you and them. You create a hierarchy. This is the thing I like the least about the industry. When saying “celebrity” and “normal”, you’re implying that maybe “celebrity” is something greater or less than “normal”. That’s not the case. That’s sort of been my whole message. That is not true. The second you start going crazy about someone you admire, you put them in a space that makes them almost unattainable. You put them in a space that is distancing and objectifying. The second you’re looking up to someone, you’re still looking up. They’re looking down. That’s a really strange way of interacting with a person. I love when people come up to me and ask a strange question or get a little invasive. That’s my favorite thing! It means there’s no wall putting them in fear of talking to me. That’s something Dylan and I wanted to make very apparent as we went to school, did the dorming system, and sat in class with everyone. People idolize celebrities in a way that is unhealthy for them. It’s something that’s sold to them by the same companies that air the TV shows. I don’t want people to think of me as something more than themselves. I want people to think of me as just a person.
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