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Dylan Sprouse on His Killer New Role, Life After Disney, and Why He Doesn’t Watch ‘Riverdale’

The “Dismissed” star on how brewing helped him make his acting comeback and why this role was unlike anything he had ever done before.

Paul Davidson

Dylan Sprouse is no stranger to the big screen, having started his acting career at just eight months old alongside his identical, younger twin brother, Cole. From their breakout role in Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy” to becoming Disney Channel stars as tweens, the Sprouse Twins seemed destined for a lifelong career in show business until they both took a break from acting to attend New York University in 2011. While Cole returned to television in 2016 to star as Jughead Jones in the CW’s hit series “Riverdale,” Dylan is finally making his own return to acting with the lead role in a new thriller, “Dismissed.”

Sprouse plays Lucas Ward, a high schooler who transfers into the classroom of English teacher Mr. Butler (Kent Osbourne). On the surface, Lucas seems like a dream student. He’s punctual, earns straight A’s, and comes to class tucked into pressed pants and blazers — an overachiever, sure, but a smart kid who wants the very best for himself. Lucas’ dream is to go to Harvard, and it’s clear that he feels the enormous pressure of maintaining perfect grades to achieve it.

But there are also dark ripples underneath Lucas’ charming surface that keep bubbling up until they eventually spill over into violence and mayhem. He viciously threatens a classmate for talking during a lesson and temporarily blinds a classmate when he is chosen over Lucas as first chair for a chess tournament. But while the behavior is truly sociopathic, Sprouse is able to tease out the humanity in Lucas, and he keeps the character from becoming a horror trope or an “SVU” caricature.

When Lucas turns in a thick, typewritten tome for his term paper (arguing Iago is the true hero of “Othello,” naturally), he is shocked to discover that he has only earned a B+ for his work. Lucas is unable to process why his work isn’t good enough, and vehemently argues that even though his thesis might not be traditional, he’s backed it up with evidence from the text. The truth is, it’s hard to disagree with him; while the “low” grade ultimately serves as Lucas’ breaking point, Sprouse’s performance makes his character’s reaction weirdly relatable to anyone who remembers the pressures of college life.

“I think what the interesting part about Lucas is that in school there are moments where you’re like, ‘Oh my God, societally I need to do everything I can to make sure my life is set up,'” Sprouse recently told IndieWire. “That was kind of the guilt complex and the fear complex that we wanted to portray with [Lucas] but kind of drag it out to 11. I think in him being relatable it also says a little bit about our education system in a way.”

At times, “Dismissed” feels like a low-budget horror movie, but Sprouse’s crackling and nuanced performance elevates the film and makes it impossible to look away. For Sprouse, it was the dark, complicated, and ultimately destructive nature of Lucas that was such an alluring vehicle for his return to acting. “It’s definitely different from anything that I’ve ever done,” he admitted.

Despite the heaviness of the role, Sprouse didn’t find it too difficult to step into Lucas’ shoes, and he actually enjoyed it. For inspiration, he began tuning into the behavior of some of his friends. “Everyone has friends or people they know, while they aren’t definitively sociopaths, they have sociopathic qualities,” he said. “I know I have friends with qualities like that myself, and while that may sound weird I definitely observed them. I think it was easy for me to kind of get in that headspace and know them a little bit and then in that way know Lucas a little bit.”

Sprouse counts himself lucky to be able to balance a love of acting with a passion for brewing mead, a fermented honey-based wine, which he smartly translated into a Brooklyn-based business, All-Wise Meadery, where he serves as both owner and master brewer. The meadery isn’t just an outlet for Sprouse to pursue his love of brewing, it also gave him a stable financial footing that facilitated not only his return to acting but also the freedom to choose the roles that speak the most to him.

“I love acting as a passion,” Sprouse explained. “It’s something that is really fulfilling to me. But the core of it, which is one of its most difficult aspects, is that it’s commission-based. Coming out of school, having remembered that in my younger life those dead periods were very tough, I decided I’m going to invest my money into a business and open up my brewery so that I don’t have any of those worries. I can kind of make money through my other passion, which is brewing, and that’s a pretty stable business, and it would free up my timeslot to take roles that I really liked and that I thought were interesting.”

Playing the role of a teenage psychopath definitely feels like a departure from roles Sprouse is best known for, namely the character of Zack Martin, which he portrayed in the wildly popular Disney series “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” and spinoff series “The Suite Life on Deck.” But Sprouse is ready to break out of any preconceived notions about his acting talent, and “Dismissed” seems like the perfect vehicle to ease him back into the spotlight while also showcasing his own tremendous talent. And while the brothers may have started their careers together, Sprouse is not weirded out by the thought of them each having their own success.

“We both have been lucky enough to be actually successful in the things that we have strived to do,” Sprouse said of himself and his twin. “But I think for us these last couple of years have really been an exploration of not only who we are as people, but also who we are as individuals outside of each other, and I think we’re really comfortable with that. The only thing that kind of stinks is that it generally means that we’re away from each other for long periods of time and we’re both very close so it’s very hard with him living in Vancouver year round and not seeing him very much. When we do reunite and hang out, it’s very nice.”

But while Cole is receiving rave reviews for his work on “Riverdale,” don’t expect Dylan to follow in his brother’s footsteps. “I definitely want to stay more on the movie end. I know everyone’s moving over to television right now but I think where I’m at, I’d rather do film,” he said.

Sprouse admits he’s “not a big TV guy,” and has only seen one episode of “Riverdale” (“don’t tell my brother”), but he still had nothing but praise for Cole’s newfound success. “I’m just immensely proud of my brother for tackling both the big job of doing ‘Riverdale,’ which is a lot of hours and has had like a lot of success, and also at the same time not losing sight of his passions like photography, which he’s very good at. I hear very good things [about ‘Riverdale’] and I hear my brother is quite good so I’m proud of him nonetheless.”

Sprouse has a few projects up his sleeve, including several scripts that he has written over the past year, which he is starting to pitch. “I’m kind of working nonstop from the last couple of months all the way until July,” he said, but noted that he has found time to watch other movies. One highlight: Takashi Miike’s ultra-bloody, two hour-plus samurai saga “Blade of the Immortal,” which looks nothing like anything Sprouse has done but may provide a window into his growing ambitions. “I fucking loved that movie,” he said, adding that it’s “100 percent right up my alley.” Someone give Miike his number.

“Dismissed” is now available on iTunes and VOD.

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