Being part of Friends must have been awesome, right? Talk about a one-way ticket to fame! But Cole Sprouse remembers things differently. He found it almost impossible to be on the show – all because of Jennifer Aniston. It’s a bizarre reason, but Sprouse has explained it all. And he wasn’t afraid to dish the dirt on Jen on The Drew Barrymore Show.
The actor was on the show to promote the latest season of the popular teen drama Riverdale. But, of course, the host couldn’t help but talk to him about his time on Friends. And while Sprouse was just eight years old when he landed the role of Ben, he remembers appearing in some of the sitcom’s most beloved episodes – particularly the ones with Aniston.
Remember that one kid?
If you’re a Friends fan – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – you’ll know “The One with the Truth about London.” In that classic episode, Ben and Rachel actually have lots of scenes together. There’s a moment when Rachel starts telling Ben about the childhood pranks she used to play. Like putting Saran wrap over the toilet seat “so the pee goes everywhere”!
A difficult time
Only Ross doesn’t like pranks. So Ross and Ben decide to give Rachel a taste of her own medicine by pranking her. Remember that dummy Ross falling down the stairs? And given that Aniston made performing on the show so “difficult” for Sprouse, maybe part of him enjoyed this storyline too.
Off the show
And maybe Sprouse’s issues with Aniston explain why Ben doesn’t appear in the show after season eight. We don’t even see him meet Ross and Rachel’s daughter, Emma. All very strange! Now that we’ve learned the truth from Sprouse, though, you have to think that there was something going on behind the scenes.
Before Sprouse had even spoken up, Friends fans had talked about this very subject. Some of their theories definitely add up, too. One Reddit user claims that, off-screen, Ross’ slightly crazy behavior led to him losing shared custody of Ben. Like in season five, when he’s forced to take a work sabbatical for screaming at a co-worker about a sandwich. Take a chill pill, Ross!
Phased out of the show
The fan also mentioned Ross hitting on his first cousin in season six. Oh, and then there was the time he asked the self-defense instructor for tips on how to attack Phoebe and Rachel. And that’s not even to mention his blatant homophobia towards the male nanny in season nine. But could Sprouse’s struggles with the sitcom actually be linked to his character being phased out?
Not very present
Well, the star shared his thoughts on Ben’s disappearance in a video for GQ magazine. And he basically confirms the idea that his screen pop was a lousy dad. “Critics would agree that Ross was never really the most present father, and so it doesn’t surprise me too much,” said Sprouse.
Hard to work with
Ross does try to be a good dad, though. In “The One with the Holiday Armadillo”, he attempts to hire a Santa outfit in time for Christmas. Even when he ends up being dressed as “weird Turtle Man,” though, he still sits down to tell young Ben the Hanukkah story. But none of this explains just why Sprouse found it so hard to act alongside Aniston.
Regular TV spots
It wasn’t because Sprouse was new to being in the spotlight. Along with his identical twin brother and fellow actor, Dylan, he started appearing in TV commercials at just eight months old. Talk about an early start... And the twins won their first regular TV role in 1993. They jointly played Patrick Kelly in Grace Under Fire for five years.
Doing well in the box office
The brothers scored their first major movie role in 1999, starring opposite funnyman Adam Sandler in Big Daddy. They shared the role of Julian, a five-year-old kid who gets temporarily fostered by Sandler’s slacker protagonist, Sonny. The pair get into all kinds of high jinks as Sonny tries to learn what responsible parenting is all about. The film did pretty well and ended up seventh on the money list for that year.
Sprouse has fond memories of making the movie. He told Variety about a time the fire alarm went off in the hotel the cast were staying at. “Adam Sandler carried me on his shoulder down 45 flights of stairs, which was really cute.” He also recalled, “We were taught every single bad word. So when my brother and I went back to school, we swore like sailors.”
Forward to the 'Suite Life'
Other movie roles followed for the twin actors, including young Pistachio Disguisey in the 2002 family romp The Master of Disguise. But it was their next TV casting in Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, that would catapult the brothers to stardom. With Dylan Sprouse as Zack and Cole playing Cody, The Suite Life centers on twins living in a hotel with their lounge-singer mom.
Derived from the shows
The show also starred Ashley Tisdale – of High School Musical fame, and was a huge success. It’s the only Disney Channel series besides That’s So Raven and Kim Possible to feature more than 65 episodes. Impressive. It also led to spinoff series The Suite Life on Deck and a movie that was derived from the two shows.
Taking to social media
In 2020 Dylan Sprouse took to Instagram to acknowledge the 15th anniversary of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, which first aired in March 2005. The actor got all nostalgic about the show as he shared a photo from the first episode. He wrote, “It was so long ago that the cold open of the pilot episode was Cole searching for non-existent armpit hair on me.”
A thousand years of gratitude
Sprouse continued, “We were both around 11 years old when we started filming. A lot had happened in our lives that was difficult then and this show, in a way, saved us. A thousand years of gratitude to all involved. I love you all, and I’m glad this show can still give families the nostalgia they once had when watching it. I’ll keep those memories forever.”
An awkward moment
In classic Dylan fashion, the actor shared a funny photo from the premiere episode of the show featuring he and his costar, twin brother Cole, caught in an awkward moment. Dylan paired the photo with a lengthy, heartfelt caption, beginning, “Yesterday marked the 15-year anniversary of when Suite Life first premiered on TV.”
Walking away from acting
Despite the success of these shows, the Sprouse twins nearly turned their backs on acting after The Suite Life on Deck ended in 2011. Opting to pursue their educations, both brothers enrolled at New York University. While Cole took photography classes and majored in archaeology, Dylan studied for a degree in video game design.
Pivot to video games
Fun fact: Dylan Sprouse’s voice has actually featured in several video games, including Total War: Warhammer II in 2018, and Kingdom Hearts III in 2020. After college he returned to movie acting too, favoring fringe roles in indie flicks such as Banana Split and Tyger Tyger – made in 2018 and 2020 respectively.
Hesitant to move forward
His younger brother – by 15 minutes – Cole, meanwhile, was all set for a career in archaeology after graduating. He even landed a job working for a lab in Brooklyn, New York. “I was bagging artifacts,” Sprouse told Variety, “And I got a call from my manager, who begged me to come back and audition for pilot season.” The actor was hesitant at first but decided to give it a shot.
Seeing it through
Sprouse recalled to Variety telling his manager, “If I don’t book anything, then I’m not going to do this anymore. And I gave her my word that if I did book something, I’d see it through. I booked ‘Riverdale,’ and it ended up tugging me back.” Winning the part of Jughead Jones in the hit teen drama couldn’t have been more perfect for Sprouse either.
Famous comic book store
As Riverdale fans will know, the show is based on characters from Archie Comics. It was developed by the brand’s chief creative officer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. So it’s fitting that Sprouse, a huge comic-book fan, landed the role of Archie’s best friend, Jughead. The star is such a fan that he even worked at Meltdown, a store that focuses on comics in Los Angeles, for a while.
Putting on the mask
Sprouse would also go to comic-book conventions as a kid. And he couldn’t resist exploring a Comic-Con event he and other Riverdale talent were guests at. “Cole put on a scarecrow mask,” the show’s creator, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, told Variety. “And he was walking around. The thing that was shocking: Even wearing the mask, people were like, ‘Oh, my God! That’s Cole!’ I was like, if he takes it off, he will get trampled.”
The social misfit
Interestingly, it wasn’t the part of series narrator Jughead that Sprouse originally went to audition for. In fact, he was invited to read for the show’s lead, Archie, but chose instead to audition for the social misfit. “I said this is a little bit more my style,” Sprouse told Variety. “And I just kind of read it like Rod Serling.” Serling, of course, was famed as the voice behind The Twilight Zone.
Winning a string of awards
Clearly the actor’s interpretation worked. And the rest, as they say, is history. Now about to enter its sixth season, the dark and compelling drama – like a Twin Peaks for millenials – has been a massive success. Not only has Riverdale won Sprouse a string of acting awards, it’s led him back into movies too.
In 2019 he starred in the romantic weepie Five Feet Apart, opposite fellow Disney Channel alum Hayley Lu Richardson. The pair play Will (Sprouse) and Stella (Richardson) – teenagers both suffering with cystic fibrosis, meaning that they must avoid close contact. Reviews of the movie have been mixed, but one thing’s for sure: it’s a tear jerker.
He's got it all
It seems Sprouse is a man of many talents. As well as being a TV and movie star, he’s a professional fashion photographer. The star’s agent, Glenn Wassall – representative of the great Annie Leibovitz, no less – told Variety, “Most of the people that I speak to initially don’t know him from his acting.” Good looking and multi-talented? Some people have all the luck!
A topic of discussion
Speaking of fashion, Sprouse’s ever-changing hairstyle was a topic of discussion during the actor’s appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show. Asked how he felt about his coiffure style garnering so much attention on the internet, the star responded, “I’m really glad that’s the auto-fit, and not gross Sprouse feet. Or something disgusting.” He added, “That seems pretty low-key in 2021. I’m glad it’s about hair.”
Some might say that Sprouse’s own hairstyle is not so very different to the trend of the period in which Bridgerton is set. And the actor had this to say about the Georgian-era vogue: “I do love the fashion and [putting on a plummy British accent] the hairstyling.” He grinned knowingly at this point, acknowledging Barrymore’s earlier comments on his hair.
Stick and poke
The show host then brought up the subject of “pandemic tattoos.” In other words, the trend of DIY, or “stick-and-poke” tattooing at home, as a way to pass the time during lockdown. For those not already in the know: “stick-and-poke” tattoos are a form of permanent inking on the skin, done with a manually operated needle, rather than an electric one.
So what did Sprouse think of this particular fashion? “I just don’t know if the origin story sounds too good,” he said. “You know, like, ‘Yeah, I got this tattoo because I was super bored, and I wanted to stick-and-poke my friends during one of the biggest pandemics in global history.”
Making up the origin story
The Riverdale star added, “My dad is covered in tattoos and he had a little saying which I take with me, which is, you should think about a tattoo for nine months. Because that’s the time it takes to have a child, and that’s a life-long decision.” Barrymore then brought up a time that the lead singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, gave her a stick-and-poke tattoo. To which Sprouse responded, “That’s way cooler [of] an origin story!”
Drew had questions
Next topic of discussion was the hotly anticipated return of Sex and the City, the super-successful HBO comedy that first aired in the ’90s. Kim Cattrall – who played sex-obsessed Samantha – will be controversially absent from the reboot. So, Barrymore wanted to know, is it still Sex and the City without one of the main characters?
Modernizing the franchise
Sprouse responded, “Which one is Samantha?” He laughed, before continuing, “Reboots are a tricky thing, you know. The original shows when they become successful, sit within this golden little plate of nostalgia. And when you modernize it and go back to it, it has the potential to really disenfranchise the original fan base.”
Reboot on the horizon?
The actor added, “I’m asked all the time if Dylan and I are going to do a Suite Life reboot, and I say, ‘No. Absolutely not.’ Aw, sorry fans of The Suite Life. Looks like the Sprouse twins won’t be reprising their roles of Zack and Cody Martin any time soon.
Another hit Netflix show, The Queen’s Gambit, has seen a resurgence in the popularity of chess. Was Sprouse a fan, Barrymore wanted to know? “I know how to play,” said the actor. “But let’s be honest: it’s really cool to watch her play it on a Netflix show, you know? She makes it look fantastic. But when was the last time that you actually sat and played chess? It’s not the most exciting game.”
Hardcore video gaming
The Five Feet Apart star added, “I grew up spoiled with video games. And that’s such an interactive medium. I can’t go from playing a man surviving the apocalypse to chess. I’m desensitized now.” Fair point. The Queen’s Gambit might have made chess cool again but probably not cool enough for hardcore video gamers.
The one and only Rachel Green
Naturally, Sprouse’s time on Friends came up during the show. And Barrymore wanted to know if the rumor was true that Sprouse had been faced with one particular challenge while working on the smash-hit sitcom. Namely, that he had a crush on Jennifer Aniston. Who, for anyone not familiar with the show – seriously, where have you been?! – played glamorous Rachel Green.
Forgetting lines around her
Jen-An was lusted after throughout the ’90s and noughties, both for her gorgeous looks and trendsetting haircuts. So is it true that Sprouse also “like-liked” her? “Yeah I did,” he confessed to Barrymore. “It actually made it quite difficult to work in front of her, I must admit. I was a child; I would stammer a lot and forget my lines.”
We all had the same crush
“I feel like I’d maintain my composure a bit more effectively now,” the star continued, “But it was quite difficult when I was a kid. I was teased a little bit by the crew. Because they saw it, and I would just forget and be like, staring at her. But then, the whole world had a crush on Jennifer Aniston.” Truth.