Cole Sprouse on Why He "Argued Creatively" for Jughead to be Asexual on *Riverdale*
Here’s something that might make you feel old: Of all the main “kids” on the CW’s Riverdale, 24-year-old Cole Sprouse is the veteran. Yes, Ross’s son Ben from Friends is all grown-up. In fact, you might also say he’s a chip off the old block from his fictional TV dad. Before getting the role of Jughead Jones on the Archie Comics–inspired series, Sprouse was a college grad working as an archaeological assistant in an artifact laboratory in Brooklyn. As Chandler Bing might sarcastically quip, “Could this be any more appropriate?!”
Probably not, but then again sit down with Sprouse (which I recently did on the set of Riverdale in Vancouver, Canada), and it’s obvious that’s where the similarities end. Sprouse is cooler, more sophisticated, and way more comfortable in his skin than Ross ever was. He’s not afraid to speak up for what he’s passionate about—when I tell him that I think we’ve run out of time, he says not to worry about it, ask whatever you still want to know. Sprouse may only be in his midtwenties, but he’s more mature and adjusted than many people twice his age.
Here, the former Suite Life of Zach and Cody star (which he costarred in with his twin brother, Dylan) reflects on his “surreal” journey from child actor to teen obsession, his most vivid memories from Friends, and why he’d love to see Jughead break new barriers on TV.
Glamour: When your casting was first announced a year ago, the piece we wrote on you blew up. The same is true for everything you tweet. Do you ever get used to that kind of attention?
Cole Sprouse: I mean, it always seems surreal. I don’t know if adjustment ever really takes place. I think you have to be doing it for quite a long time to come to terms with what you’re viewed as and where you stand within your own society. I’m very thankful, but it’s a double-edged sword; there are things you gain and things you lose. I think as long as acting feels fulfilling and continues to feel fulfilling, it’s worth it to me. Being on set is the thing I love the most, and a lot of the things that come alongside acting and entertainment are the things I despise, to be quite honest. I think we all have different ways with coming to terms with celebrity, if you’re raised within it. Everyone goes through it differently, and there’s no one right answer. I think as long as it’s fun and fulfilling…
Glamour: I sat down with David Schwimmer last year and said to him,
“Did you have a favorite episode of Friends?” and he said…
Sprouse: “The Holiday Armadillo?”
Glamour: Yes! How did you know?
Sprouse: Because that episode resonates with a lot…it’s a hilarious episode. That’s the one I remember most clearly. When you’re that [age] and you’re kind of acting, it’s not as lucid. I don’t remember it with as full a clarity as I did in the moment, but I remember feeling quite intimidated by the scale of the show itself as a small child. And when someone comes in an armadillo costume, you’re taken aback for a second. I didn’t really read a lot of the scripts or prepare for a lot of the scripts beforehand, because when you’re that old, you’re sort of given the lines immediately and then you go out there and you perform it. I remember I had the most massive crush on Jennifer Aniston. It rendered me speechless almost every scene I would do with her.
Glamour: No way. [Laughs] I mean, I believe it, but that’s so cute.
Sprouse: I remember, one time I was supposed to give my line, and she stared at me, and I blanked. I just completely shut up; I didn’t know what to say. One of the crew members was like, [does a little voice] “Little boy’s got a crush!” Everyone started laughing. I remember being stricken with fear, just paralyzed with fear that this secret that I had held had gotten out. Looking back, it’s those experiences that made it the most fun. It’s very interesting hearing people call me “Ben” from Friends because what my brother and I are most known for is the Disney show The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, but there’s been a massive resurgence of people who’ve recognized me from Friends, and for years people didn’t even realize I was on it.
Glamour: People think you split the role of Ben with your brother, Dylan, but it was all you.
Sprouse: Yeah, it was just me. But for years it sort of went under the radar, and then I must have had sort of a resurgence on like, Netflix, or more digital media. People found out about it again and went crazy.
Glamour: What did Jennifer Aniston do when she found out about your crush? Please tell me she was the nicest.
Sprouse: To be honest, I don’t really remember. I just kind of remember that one experience. It was a funny experience. It was a nightmare. [Laughs]
Glamour: Well, I’m sure, as a little kid, it’s very terrifying to hear that!
Sprouse: Well, the crush thing, yeah, for sure, but it was wonderful to act on that show.
Glamour: How did Riverdale come about?
Sprouse: I had graduated college at NYU. I had taken a step away. Then I got a job as sort of an archaeological assistant in this small artifact laboratory in Brooklyn. I was working in a basement, and there was no sun. I was like a little treasure goblin, and I ended up getting a request to fly out to L.A. and audition for Archie. There was a scene in it in which I got to act across from Jughead, and I read Jughead and was like, “I love this character.” Then I found out he was the narrator, and I was like, “I’d much rather read for Jughead.”
I was in a weird place in my life and had just come off of two weeks of watching The Twilight Zone. The audition itself was this huge monologue of narration that I went in and basically said, “I’m going to read this like Rod Serling.” It was like a Twilight Zone episode. It just so happened to be tonally similar to what the creative had imagined for the show. It was a pretty grueling process for the next couple months of just going back and forth and auditioning…but it turned out great.
Glamour: At the end of tonight’s episode, a big secret about Jughead is revealed. I love that he’s unabashedly himself.
Sprouse: I feel like the damaged character is handled in a really melodramatic way, and I like that Jughead still very much infuses the tragedy he experiences with comedy in a dark, cynical, sarcastic kind of way, which is really real. A lot of people who have traumatic experiences or go through the kind of drama that Jughead will…hide their emotions with a shell of humor. Oftentimes the funniest comedians are people who’ve gone through personal torment. That’s the way we played the classic digest Jughead, who is the punch line, with this new Jughead, who’s kind of tortured. He’s this kid who uses comedy as an attempt to mask his feelings; we still keep that very strong, and that’s great. I love that.
Glamour: Did you have to dye your hair for this role?
Sprouse: I did.
Glamour: How’s that for you? Do you have to do it constantly because I know KJ [Apa—Archie] has to do it all the time.
Sprouse: I do it every two weeks or so. It’s not bad. I’m fitting into it a little more. I miss the blond, but people tell my brother and I apart more easily now, so that helps.
Glamour: I’m just going to admit this. When I was 10, I was a member of the Archie Fan Club. [Laughs] So where is Jughead’s burger obsession?
Sprouse: I love it! [As for] the obsession, I dunno, it’s not sort of beaten over the audience’s head. Jughead, in, like, every scene is sort of snacking or eating something, but it’s not like he proclaims his love for burgers out loud in a sort of theatrical way, like he does in the digest. He’s shown eating quite often, but there are certain creative liberties we’ve taken not to break fourth wall. An obsession with burgers proclaimed, out loud, every episode, is one of those things that would tonally kind of break fourth wall. But he is shown eating, he talks about this love of food, so, you’ll get there.
Glamour: When I stopped reading the comic books, I heard that Jughead came out as asexual, which was news to me. Do you hope they’ll take that same direction in the show?
Sprouse: So, the day I was cast was actually the same day he was announced as canonically asexual. It wasn’t in the digest—it was in Zadarsky’s universe, so it was in one of the newer comics that was written. But Jughead’s always been a romantic in a way that he, in the earlier comics, stayed away from girls and put his attention toward his food fetishism. So he’s always kind of had this narrative, but when I started doing my research into Jughead’s sexuality specifically there’s always been little areas where he got close enough to potentially suggest that he might like either Betty or Ethel, or even some comics where he gets kissed by Veronica. I don’t think it was really cemented in the digest too much what stance Jughead took.
I think, in this show, he’s not a romantic and not asexual. I argued in the beginning, creatively, that he should be both, but in this show, he’s kind of a tortured youth that ends up finding a comfort and a resonance with another person who’s going through a lot of trauma. They end up forming this kind of beautiful, honest union, and I think that, to me, is a narrative that works with this universe of Jughead. But I think that kind of asexual and a-romantic representation is really important. If it ends up finding a place in Riverdale and in future seasons, then hopefully we’ll do it with tact and in a way that respects what it is and how it resonates.
Glamour: I have to say it is pretty remarkable that in the show—at least with the five episodes I’ve seen—there’s no main couple, which does not happen a lot on shows.
Sprouse: We don’t…you know, it’s funny, I guess the original Netflix description of the show was, “The Archie Gang navigates sex!” and this and that. To be honest, [that’s] a horrible representation of what this show is. We don’t beat sexual relationships over the head of the audience with our characters. The main narrative of this show is very much the murder of Jason Blossom and the investigation of that, and a lot of the romance that does inevitably happen takes place as sort of a subsidiary narrative.
Glamour: The whole “Who killed Jason?” story line is making me crazy. There’s a new development or suspect every 10 minutes! I’m racking my brain trying to think who did it.
Sprouse: It gets way more complicated, but I’m not going to spoil anything for you.
A new episode of Riverdale airs tonight on the CW at 9 P.M. ET. Before you watch it, check out this video Madelaine Petsch (“Cheryl Blossom”) and I made while on the set of Pop’s Choklit Shoppe: