Cole Sprouse talks Five Feet Apart, singing on-screen and Riverdale season 4

22 March 2019, 21:47 | Updated: 25 March 2019, 11:27

Cole Sprouse as Will Newman in Five Feet Apart
Cole Sprouse as Will Newman in Five Feet Apart. Picture: CBS Films/Lionsgate
Katie Louise-Smith

By Katie Louise-Smith

It's been a long time since we've seen Cole Sprouse on the big screen and in Five Feet Apart, he's back and he's better than ever.

By now, you'll have already heard - and maybe even had a cry over - Cole Sprouse singing in Riverdale's 'Heathers' musical episode but it's his quiet and comforting rendition of 'A Bushel And A Peck' in his new movie Five Feet Apart that'll really make you sob.

Directed by Justin Baldoni (who you'll know and love as Rafael from Jane The Virgin), Five Feet Apart tells the story of Stella and Will, two cystic fibrosis patients who end up falling for each other. Their condition, however, means they're not allowed to physically interact because the risk of cross-contamination could result in devastating consequences.

The film stars Cole and Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, Split) as the two main characters. It's a genre that most of us are very familiar with but there's something about Five Feet Apart that stands out from the rest and the emotional "interpretive ending" will hit you in a way you wouldn't expect.

Ahead of the UK release of Five Feet Apart, PopBuzz managed to catch Cole over the phone to have a chat about the film, the challenges that came with playing Will Newman, representing the CF community on-screen and what's ahead for Jughead in Riverdale season 4.

PopBuzz: One thing that surprised me about the film was how it’s so heartbreaking and yet so hopeful at the same time. It felt so different to other films that fit in the same genre. Was that something you guys wanted to make sure you got across? To show the light?

Cole Sprouse: Yeah I mean, first off, I think Justin's mission statement, our director, was always one of hope and the job for Haley and I was to try and shave off the natural romanticising that takes place within that genre into something that felt a little more grounded and honest for the characters. But the interpretive ending allowed us to have the audience sort of decide what they felt happened to the characters. I think Justin was in the mind that if you're gonna do a movie that hopefully is going to be viewed by the cystic fibrosis community, then the message we wanna give to them is one of hope, not necessarily one that felt on the darker side of that narrative.

PB: This is the first movie you’ve done in a long time. What was it about this film, and the role of Will in particular, that drew you back in?

CS: Well, I was pretty hesitant at first. And I think that's because this genre has the potential to do a lot of damage if it's sort of represented incorrectly. At the end of the day, it was really after I met with Justin and finding out how passionate he was about the cystic fibrosis community and the mission statement being one of hope that that kind of put all my trepidations to rest. In terms of career trajectory? To be honest, I've had that question a lot and I wish I'd been thinking about it. I wanted to work during the hiatus on Riverdale and this lined up perfectly with it. It just seemed like a good move at the time.

PB: I know you’ve spoken about the immense responsibility of telling the story of such a heavily underrepresented community, how much preparation did you undergo for the role? I know you said that physically it was a challenge for you as well.

CS: Yeah, we had the luxury of about a month and a half of prep and research, alongside the advice of actual patients with cystic fibrosis and medical professionals. With their advice, I had a physical regimen to get me into the kind of shape or image of a cystic fibrosis patient. And then of course they gave us a lot of time to understand the psychology of grappling with your mortality at a very young age and how that effects social foundation and relationship building.

PB: The reaction to the film on social media has been incredible so far. Has anyone from the community reached out to you about it yet? And what did they say?

CS: We got a lot of really really positive feedback from the CF community, it's very validating. Ultimately, you know, they're why we made the movie so their acceptance is the currency of the success in my opinion and I think that's been really reassuring. Before the movie had come out, there was a lot of fear that it would misrepresent the community or would do damage to the representation through the sheer notion of romance or encourage a dangerous sort of connection. But the community has been really really responsive to the representation that we have. Yeah, so really reassuring.

Cole Sprouse as Will Numan in Five Feet Apart
Cole Sprouse as Will Newman in Five Feet Apart. Picture: CBS Films/Lionsgate

PB: That's amazing to hear. The film has such an incredible cast with Haley - who is brilliant - and of course, your little Disney Channel reunion with Moises Arias. How was it working with the two of them? You guys seemed to have such a great dynamic on-screen.

CS: Yeah, I think Haley and I kind of had the same idea of how we wanted to play the characters, which was way more grounded in realism than what could have been the kind of overacting that often comes within that genre. And we got along really well! It's one of those things were you roll the dice, you can have chemistry and you can try to do as much as possible, but you don't really know how the work environment is going to be alongside your co-stars until you're there. And we were lucky enough to have gotten a good roll on the dice and really get along quite well! Haley's talented, she's also a very giving actress - and I act in a very similar way. So, we both cared a lot. Considering the kind of content we were grappling with, we were able to validate one another.

PB: Well, speaking about the emotional heaviness of the script and the subject, how did you guys combat that on set? I just saw that you and Haley went on a strip club tour... which is amazing.

CS: We did!

PB: How else did you keep your spirits up?

CS: To be quite honest, when we were on set, there was a responsibility and an emotional continuity that we needed to keep in order to stay in it. And I'm of the mind that it's better not to take from that. Toward the end of production, we were able to loosen up a little bit after the more emotional scenes had taken place and we had finished those and moved onto the last week of the production cycle. We were able to let go a little bit. In terms of levity, we really didn't allow ourselves to fall into too much levity. To be honest, it felt kind of inappropriate to detach from that. But New Orleans is an incredibly vibrant and wonderful city with wonderful food and great drinking. A really great nightlife! And more bachelor and bachelorette parties than I have ever seen in my life.

PB: I bet!

CS: So it was fun to kind of get lost in that crowd.

PB: One of my favourite parts of the film is the scene where Will sings to Stella and it’s so great that I get to talk to you now because of course, in the musical episode of Riverdale, you sing! And it's incredible!

CS: Thanks!

PB: Previously, you said that it would take a lot for someone to get you to sing and now you’ve sung twice. What made you finally say, “yeah, I’m gonna do it”?

CS: To be honest, I think I was mis-quoted the first time I said that. What I actually said when I said I wouldn't sing is that, Disney Channel was asking me and my brother to drop an album for very many years. And that's what we didn't wanna do. I mean, I've sung on The Suite Life, I've sung on a couple other projects and you know, when it's in character, it's not a problem for me. When it's 'Cole Sprouse singing,' it becomes very strange and vulnerable. It's just a matter of making sense for the character in the moment. For Will, it was a matter of comforting Stella in the same way that she had been comforted and trying to bring a little joy to something incredibly frightening - like surgery. And for Jughead, it was a moment of incredible vulnerability and really a tragedy that kind of fit perfectly to the narrative.

PB: Yeah. Like you just said, it depends on the character but let’s say Jughead decided to let it all go for a night and get involved with karaoke at La Bonne Nuit... What’s the one song you do think he would get up and sing?

CS: Oh, man... you know that angsty emo kid would sing some Avenged Sevenfold or Panic! At The Disco. Something incredibly emo.

PB: Maybe a slam poetry version?!

CS: Oh, of course! He'd be the guy in like, the top hat and all the bracelets looking like an amateur musician doing slam poetry.

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse as Stella Grant and Will Numan in Five Feet Apart
Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse as Stella Grant and Will Numan in Five Feet Apart. Picture: CBS Films/Lionsgate

PB: Love it! So what's happening next for you? Hiatus is coming up, you're still working on Riverdale now, you've got your photography, anything else lined up? Any other acting gigs?

CS: Yeah! I have one little project that I can't speak too much about lined up for the hiatus. I'd like to manoeuvre my way through the film thing where I'd like to do at least one film a year and it be of a more artistic calibre than a kind of commercial one. I've done Five Feet Apart and it was a commercial project, Riverdale is such a mainstream project that I'd like to live within the independent life for a bit. And then, a lot of photography! Honestly, I haven't stopped working for the last 3 years. So in the event I just sit on the couch for the whole time, I think that would be a welcome relaxation at this point.

PB: Absolutely! My last question, I hope you don’t mind, it’s about Riverdale

CS: Sure!

PB: We’re winding down toward the end of season 3, there's been some huge shockwaves being sent through Jughead’s home life with his mum right now. Where do you want to see Jughead’s story go in season 4? Because he's changed so much. What do you think is ahead for him?

CS: I think when Riverdale is at its strongest it's about the characters, their dynamics, their personal narratives and their relationships with one another. And I think Jughead asking himself how his family has affected him is what I'd kind of like to see. But I also think I'd love to see a Jughead that feels kind of like a season one Jughead, which is much more of a quiet sort of monologue side. I think there's a lot of potential and a lot of interesting narratives this season in the form of FP and Jughead teaming up and playing the True Detective crime investigator father/son duo. I think there's something really enjoyable about Jughead being the brain and FP being the brawn of that investigation. That's something I'd personally like to see going into season 4.

PB: And I mean, seeing as you’re finally showing off those vocals how about a lead in the next musical episode?

CS: Ha! Oh man, I'm not trying to trying to grease any wheels on that - if it makes sense for the character, it makes sense for the character. But I could spent the rest of my life not singing on screen and being totally content with that.

PB: You were fantastic in the musical episode!

CS: Oh, I appreciate that.

PB: It really was a lovely moment between Betty and Jughead, and so nice to watch.

CS: Yeah, I think that's a really pretty scene and I'm glad it turned out that way.

Five Feet Apart is releasing in UK cinemas Friday 22nd March 2019


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.