Cole Sprouse says female Disney Channel stars were 'heavily sexualized' by the network

If there’s one thing Cole Sprouse knows all too well, it’s the high price of fame.

Alongside his twin brother, Dylan, the Sprouse brothers starred in a string of projects in the late-1990s and early-2000s — including the Adam Sandler film Big Daddy, Friends (as Ross’s son) and the Disney Channel smash hit, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

As Sprouse explained to the New York Times, the pair worked so tirelessly that they were officially burned out by the time they turned 18.

“I started acting when I was so young that I hadn’t actually attempted, as an adult, to think about if I really enjoyed performance,” reflected Sprouse, 29, who quit acting to study archaeology at New York University following his Disney Channel fame.

It wasn’t until he decided to fulfill a promise he’d made to his manager to give one more round of TV auditions before quitting for good that he ended up booking a starring role on the CW’s Riverdale in 2017, which is currently filming its seventh season.

“When I returned, I reminded myself that I do very much love the art of acting,” Sprouse said. “But I still have a very complicated relationship to celebrity culture," adding that he saw the “trauma” of fame firsthand growing up as a child star.

“My brother and I used to get quite a bit of, ‘Oh, you made it out! Oh, you’re unscathed!’ No,” the Moonshot actor said when asked about surviving early stardom. “The young women on the channel we were on [Disney Channel] were so heavily sexualized from such an earlier age than my brother and I that there’s absolutely no way that we could compare our experiences. And every single person going through that trauma has a unique experience.”

THE SUITE LIFE ON DECK - Disney Channel's
Dylan and Cole Sprouse starred in the Disney Channel's Suite Life of Zack and Cody from 2005 to 2008. The show led to a spinoff, The Suite Life on Deck (pictured) as well as a TV movie based on both series. (Photo: Craig Sjodin/Disney Channel via Getty Images) (Craig Sjodin via Getty Images)

“When we talk about child stars going nuts, what we’re not actually talking about is how fame is a trauma,” he continued. “So I’m violently defensive against people who mock some of the young women who were on the channel when I was younger because I don’t feel like it adequately comprehends the humanity of that experience and what it takes to recover.”

He added, “To be quite honest, as I have now gone through a second big round of this fame game as an adult, I’ve noticed the same psychological effects that fame yields upon a group of young adults as I did when I was a child. I just think people have an easier time hiding it when they’re older.”

After he graduated from NYU, Sprouse built a professional career as a fashion photographer — something he says was spawned by his love for archaeology.

“When I was in school, I was traveling a lot for archaeology, so I always had my camera and I was taking almost anthropological-type photos of the people I was meeting, the culture I was surrounded by,” he said. “And then, just by being in New York City, I got wrapped up in fashion work and built a portfolio. That was my main source of revenue until Riverdale.”

“In an ideal world, when Riverdale finishes, I would love to be doing one to two movies a year and photography the rest of the time,” he added. “And the logical intersection of those two worlds will eventually be directing.”

Needless to say, if you’re waiting for a Zack and Cody reboot, it’s probably best to let that dream go.

“I don’t think I’ll ever return to that,” said of the idea. “Not that I have a problem with other people doing the reboots thing. I’m just a big believer that if something is beautiful in the past, you should let it stay beautiful. To bring it into the future feels a bit like reheating a really good, fresh meal in the microwave. It would be hard to be in my 30s and go, ‘Zack and Cody are back, man!’”

Of course, that's not to say the actor hasn't been enjoying his second act. Recently, Sprouse went back to his blonde roots for a new campaign with Versace, an experience in which he told Highsnobriety that felt like coming home.

"They all welcomed me with open arms, and a bit of that warmth I wear with me now whenever I put on an article of Versace," he said. "I was born in Tuscany, and so I've also had the tremendous pleasure of being able to return to my birth country of Italy alongside Versace."

"I think everyone has deep fashion aspirations, even if they may not proclaim it," he told the publication. "I believe that self-representation is critical to how we maneuver our world, and in that way I'd say I've started the line of questioning that point me toward bigger aspirations in fashion."