Photography Alex Hainer

Cole Sprouse predicts the future of society

With his chilling new horror podcast ‘Borrasca’ out now, Cole shares his supernatural experiences before going deep on the future of the film industry.

by Frankie Dunn
25 June 2020, 1:00pm

Photography Alex Hainer

Last month, Cole Sprouse announced his role as producer and voice actor of a new podcast adaptation of C.K. Walker’s cult five-part novel, Borrasca, originally published on the NoSleep sub-reddit. “I should probably note in advance that the content of this series is incredibly grim,” he added. “Anyone who loves their creepy pastas late at night, as they desperately try to drift off to some sort of existential horror/quarantine sleep, might know the tale of Borrasca."

When i-D called him at the end of May, the 27-year-old was isolating with his Riverdale BFF KJ Apa in Los Angeles, enjoying his first extended break from work or studying since he began acting at just eight months old. Thinking this period might also bring with it a break from celebrity, he was soon proved wrong as his private relationships continued to be pulled into question by both fans and the media.

A few days after our interview, the death of George Floyd swiftly shifted global conversation away from the pandemic and towards the institutionalised racism in our society that still so urgently needs dismantling. Cole joined the millions of people across the world taking to the streets to march in solidarity. “A group of peaceful protesters, myself included, were arrested yesterday in Santa Monica,” he shared on Instagram. “So before the voracious horde of media sensationalism decides to somehow turn it about me, there’s a clear need to talk about the circumstances: Black Lives Matter.” He went on to detail kettling tactics used by the police at the time of his arrest, the long-standing racist agenda of the media, and his intentions as an ally.

Here, we chat with Cole about horror, collective social trauma and what the film industry -- and the wider world -- might look like post-pandemic.

Hi Cole. You’ve previously referred to your teenage self as a recluse. Do you think you’re suited to the quarantine lifestyle?
I think many people who were young actors have that same sort of reclusiveness, but yeah, I think it lends a lot to my ability to isolate. I’ve been on Animal Crossing on the Switch so hard! I‘ve just been loving it. It’s a big time-sink, that’s for sure. I’ve found myself seeking more passive entertainment mediums during quarantine, and Animal Crossing is quite a meditative game, so it’s been nice and relaxing.

Have you found that lockdown has given you a break from ‘celebrity’ too?
That’s what I thought! But I think it’s pretty natural that when people don’t hear from individuals for an extended period of time, they end up seeking out what they’re doing with increased fervour. And I’ve found inquiries into the way I’m living to actually be at an all-time high right now.

When in reality, there’s actually not that much to talk about?
Truly! But the enquiries don’t seem to cease. That being said, they wouldn’t find it to be the most exciting.

Did you join the rest of the horny locked-down world in watching Normal People?
No, but everyone keeps recommending it to me. To be honest, with anything I’ve been watching, I’ve been subconsciously doing my homework. I’ve been behind the velvet curtain for so long now that I can’t suspend my disbelief as easy as I once was capable of doing. I’m looking at the lighting and the choice of the shot and the acting. I can’t just mindlessly watch. I think the passive role of an audience member is something that I’ve been seeking since quarantine began.

Are you still taking photos?
Trying to! You know, with as much respect to social distancing as possible. I’ve got myself a mannequin which I intend on taking out to the woods, maybe this upcoming week, and shooting for a small project I’m not allowed to talk about yet. It’s interesting though, everyone’s doing these FaceTime shoots and Zoom shoots, and I’ve been trying to stay away from that. The art direction on those things seems like a really challenging endeavour.

Cole Sprouse by Alex Hainer

Right! How do you feel about those?
At first they were novel, but they seem to have become quite a popular trend. I do think they’re great when they’re well done, I’m just getting a bit tired of it personally. I don’t know how I would try and find a novelty within that.

You’re all about landscapes, aren’t you?
Yeah, which has been part of the difficulty. A lot of our national parks are closed and travel has been restricted tremendously, so the natural inspiration that I take from the landscape has been stymied a little bit. It seems like the US is starting to open up though, so I think if I’m able to hop in my car, just me and my camera, it’ll be safe.

Just you, your camera and the mannequin.
Yes, exactly right.

Such a creep.
And a box of my childhood clothes to really scare people.

Perfect. So let’s talk about Borrasca… are you able to listen back to your voice without cringing? Because that’s a real skill.
I can’t do it on voicemail for some reason, but Borrasca hasn’t been too challenging. I don’t have a problem watching or listening when it’s fully in character. As a general rule of thumb though, I try not to watch or listen to anything I do because I self-criticise so tremendously. I guess I do cringe quite a bit.

Whose voice do you wish you had?
David Attenborough, for sure. No doubt.

And are you a regular podcast listener?
I am! The ones that I listen to though are more educational in nature. The one I keep going back to is A History of the World in 100 Objects, which is a really wonderful archeological podcast. I used to enjoy Welcome To Night Vale too, which I guess was more narrative.

Borrasca is spooky as fuck. Have you had any supernatural experiences yourself?
When I was a child I lived in a really old part of California, and this area in my neighbourhood had some of the oldest streets. There were no street lights. I must’ve been about seven or eight, and we had a friend that lived at the other end of this dark, dark street. My brother, our friend Shaun and myself left our house at sundown, because we were gonna go sleep over at his, and by the time we got out it was pitch black. We got to this fork in the road, and to the left was this long street that led up the hill, and to the right was Shaun’s house. And as we approached the fork, I stopped and I saw this figure. I don’t really know how to explain it. It was just this humanoid shape but it was amorphous, the way it was moving was almost fluid. It looked human but it was so dark, and the shape was darker than the surrounding darkness.

And it was moving towards us. I was petrified. I couldn’t move, probably wasn’t even breathing. I was just watching it approach me in this fluid motion; this sort of writhing… it’s still giving me chills actually, just thinking about it. I thought that perhaps I was just seeing something in the darkness but when I turned and looked at my brother and Shaun, they were both frozen still as well, looking at the same thing. And we hadn’t spoken, we hadn’t said anything, but on a dime we all just snapped and started sprinting towards Shaun’s house. To this day, my brother and I have no way of explaining it. It was one of those cosmic horrors you hear about in a Lovecraft novel, really frightening stuff.

Damn. And has there been a horror movie that had a lasting impact on you?
Oh yeah, John Carpenter’s The Thing was a keystone for me growing up. I’ve always been fascinated with practical effects and of course The Thing, at the time, was an example of the most advanced effects they had. I’m a big fan of claustrophobic horror and environmental horror as well. I think The Thing was a really wonderful example of that, of turning the setting -- in this case the small research outpost -- into a character itself. It’s this oppressive, claustrophobic environment that ended up yielding so much to the tone it ended up becoming a character as well. It’s something we were trying to do with Borrasca.

Cole Sprouse by Alex Hainer

Have you been having any wild quarantine dreams?
Yeah! This has got to be some collective subconscious thing everybody is going through, right? It’s a shame, normally I keep a dream journal with me, cause I like to write them down, but I left it up in Vancouver. It’s been very strange. I find myself writhing quite a bit in the night to them and then forgetting them in the morning… but I know they exist.

You know they disturbed you.
I know they disturbed me… from all the scratches on the walls behind me.

Vancouver’s where you film Riverdale, right? Obviously Season 4 got cut short, which is why we never got to see prom happen, but what do you remember from your own prom?
I was working on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody at the time and I stopped public schooling in the seventh grade, so I never had a prom. But to be honest, from the way that all my friends described high school, I don’t really feel like I missed out on much.

Yeah, it sucked.
Everyone seems to agree with that. But yeah, we had actually filmed the prom set and gotten all of the scenes out of the way for that episode in that set… so in a way that was my first prom.

Cute! How was the experience?
Uh, considering the next day we shut down, probably just as much of a let down as other people’s proms. No, it was fun. I’m very, very close to the entire cast of Riverdale, we’re like one big family, so it’s fun when we get to have those scenes together. But I think the nature of the quarantine has changed narratives like that. I don’t think we’re going to go back to a kind of industry that allows us to have 400 background and 120 crew members in an enclosed auditorium. So I think the fact that we had that big last scene was an interesting farewell.

And do you like the idea of a new, more intimate industry?
I think it’s hard to say yet. What I do enjoy though, is that -- and this is the historical student in me talking -- we’re going to have a very clearly demarcated period of the entertainment arts that was directly influenced narratively by a larger environmental-social trauma. And a conscious one at that! When we have these traumas that exist in the world, they often subconsciously take an effect upon the narratives we see produced in the entertainment industry, but this is a really, really conscious one. We’re actively regulating certain kinds of narratives in an attempt to combat an environmental pressure, and I’m tremendously interested in what it’s going to look like ten years from now, or whenever that regulation ceases -- whether it stops after the introduction of a vaccine or it doesn’t stop.

I’m gonna be really intrigued to see how, technically, we manage to continue to create the narratives that we wanna create too. You know, one of these things that the industry has tossed around for a while now is the idea of romantic scenes, and how people are gonna do that. You know, one of the greatest topics within the arts is love, and it’ll be interesting to see how those kinds of narratives will continue given these new pressures.

Absolutely, it’s kind of fascinating. How about outside of the industry? What kind of world do you envision after this?
I think all of us are going to have a much greater consideration of who we allow access into our lives in a physical way. I think we’ve all sat with ourselves for however long now and deeply considered what it means to be a person who consistently goes out; what it means to have people over; and how we approach social relations from here on out.

I think it’s going to have a tremendous impact on our collective national subconsciousness and I think we’re really going to go through it. But I also think this is also a period of time where our generation and younger ones, we’re not going to forget the failures of our government in this regard. We’re really not. And I think once our generation comes into itself and really represents the majority of the United States, we’re going to remember how our government failed our health system; how our government failed essential workers; how our delayed response cost lives and how, in the eyes of the world, we totally mismanaged our approach to this.

Episodes 1-4 of Borrasca are available now on all podcast streaming sites, with further episodes released each Monday until 20 July.


Photography Alex Hainer

cole sprouse