As Riverdale’s tale of murder and maple syrup has unfolded, Cole Sprouse’s Jughead has been our guide, narrating with a straight-faced, wise-beyond-his years sensibility. All the while, we’ve learned more about the young man underneath the crown beanie, as he pursues a relationship with Betty and opens up about his family. (His father is in the gang known as the Southside Serpents.) But he still has not yet eaten a hamburger.
There are only four episodes left in the inaugural season in which meat patties can be devoured, and, according to Sprouse, they are going to be jam-packed as the show builds toward revealing who murdered Jason Blossom. First up, a big house party in tonight’s episode, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern on The CW. “I know for a lot of the cast members it’s their favorite episode of the series,” he said. Sprouse also shared his thoughts on his character’s relationship with Betty (unfortunately known as “Bughead”) and, yes, burgers.
The A.V. Club: The way the mythology of the town has come out has been fantastic. Your monologue last week about maple syrup and the town’s relationship to it was wonderful.
Cole Sprouse: So good.
AVC: How much did you learn from the outset? How much did it seep into the narrative as the first season developed?
CS: It’s funny, you know. Because it’s the Archie universe, it’s already all been fleshed out, really. Except I’m pretty sure the maple syrup stuff is brand new. The maple syrup thing to me is probably the single greatest part of the town. It’s so hard to take like maple syrup drama seriously, which I think is the point. It really alludes to this classic Archie book thing being twisted and poked fun at. I think the point for the characters is —regardless how humorous the town seems from an audience point of view—everyone within the town, like in Twin Peaks as an example, takes it very, very seriously. It’s all life or death. It’s not a joke. They grew up with it. It’s a common thing in their lives. It’s not something that feels unusual because we’re watching it as a distinct audience member. It feels very real and honest and can be the source of discontent. I think that’s the point. Regardless of how much you laugh when you read the monologue at the table read, you still have to get in the booth and take it very seriously.
The world itself has slowly pulled back its own curtain over time, which I think is cool, and people are really taking to the lore of Riverdale quite a bit. I think the fine line that people should always ride is that there is a very obviously acknowledged campiness to the Archie universe that is something we‘re consistently poking fun at. I know I keep bringing it up and it’s dangerous to make Lynchian comparisons ever, but it’s like a Twin Peaks. It takes itself so so seriously that it almost rides an uncanny valley of silliness. That’s kind of how the town is shaping up now.
AVC: So the show is not taking itself seriously, but the characters are. Is that a balance that’s hard to strike as an actor in the world?
CS: Not really, I think because we separate ourselves enough that when we start to get into character there’s no question that we take it seriously. Though the world itself might have a touch of campiness to it, the issues that these kids are dealing with, and that the whole town is dealing with are very serious, and are not joking matters and need to be taken seriously within the context of the town. So it still ends up making a bit of sense.
AVC: Jughead started out in the first couple of episodes as a mysterious character. We’ve since learned about his father, Skeet Ulrich. And that Jughead has been homeless and is now living with the Andrews. What has it been like for you charting that journey?
CS: It’s challenging and it’s touching. And I think the point is you have an empathy for that kind of experience that does it service or justice. The challenge is just how much thought you bring into the performance. I think the key is that Jughead has this upbringing that informs his modern decisions. The point is that you have to figure out, in a sort of Pavlovian way, psychologically how would his upbringing inform his actions in this scene. How does his ability to make eye contact, how is that referential to the way people have treated him in the past? That’s kind of the way it’s done, but if you think about it for long enough—and we have plenty of time to think about it, we’re in Vancouver shooting this thing, we’re in that bubble—you find that balance.
AVC: What was your reaction to the Betty and Jughead romance when it was first presented to you?
CS: I enjoyed reading it. It shocked me a little bit because it’s probably the single greatest point of distinction from the comics that our show has lived out thus far. Even more than the murder of Jason Blossom. Death and killing has been seen in Archie before. Jughead and Betty’s coupling is very original to Riverdale and people have really taken to it. And that’s reassuring that people see that chemistry and they really enjoy it and they want to see more of it. But it was kind of nerve-wracking and risky because that representation that the writers and producers have pushed forward for the show is going in a completely new direction. The inherent risk of how original that storyline is means that people can hate it or really take to it, and the fact that people have really taken it it is very reassuring.
AVC: You talked before the series started airing about wanting to eventually explore Jughead’s asexuality from the Chip Zdarsky comics. But people get very into TV romances—there are ’shipping names. How does that that factor into your performance?
CS: Originally I had argued for an asexual Jughead with the creative team. And I’m an actor so I didn’t really have too much agency with that situation. I ended up doing a lot of research into the different representations Jughead has had over time. So the asexual Jughead is a very recent kind of Jughead in Zdarsky’s universe. And then almost all other forms of Jughead’s representation were either 1) he was a woman-hater—it wasn’t necessarily a romantic or sexual choice, he just hated women or 2) he was aromantic, which is different than asexual and deserves a different kind of conversation. I had ended up doing a lot of research once the writers started coupling Bughead, and there’s actually a very long-lived trope with Betty and Jughead very early on in the digests in which Betty is trying to vie for Jughead’s affection and Jughead is just kind of continuously refusing, but saying things like, “Look, if I didn’t hate women, trust me, Betty, I’d be with you.” Which, of course, became kind of a reference for the kind of character Jughead would eventually become. And the argument of Jughead’s sexuality has not hit a wall because he’s now with Betty on the show. Jughead’s sexuality becomes, already in our discussion of second season, becomes something of further investigation. The community exists and I believe that kind of asexual aromantic representation is desperately needed in film and television and especially in mainstream media, and I hope to be the person to bring that to life and to realism. I think now when it comes to putting empathy on the page, my job as an actor is not so much to think about how to control the creative direction but rather to make the material I’m given organic and honest and real in a way that you can see the character as informed by their psychology, their upbringing and their environment. And Betty and Jughead’s union is the product of that information.
AVC: At least what we’ve seen so far has been that Betty and Jughead are in a mutually supportive relationship, which is sort of unusual for teen dramas in that way.
CS: It’s nice. It’s a very well-rounded and healthy relationship. Episode 10 deals with that a little bit, though. We didn’t want it to look perfect. So in episode 10, Betty and Jughead get into a bit of a kerfuffle, an argument of sorts about just how contrasting their personalities are truly and what that means for them as a couple and as a relationship. Jughead is also one of those characters that is so used to the people he’s closest to doing him wrong that he oftentimes will pull away, when he gets too close to someone as a defense mechanism. I think that becomes a talking point in their relationship. It ends up even taking an even more supportive and realistic tone.
AVC: In this week’s episode, there’s a big party for Jughead’s birthday. Does it shift focus from the parents’ problems to the teen perspective?
CS: Yeah, very much. I think the point of episode 10 was to show that even when the narrative is put inside the quintessential, stereotypical, American house party setting, it can still be quite grave and it can still further this underlying darkness that we’re still trying to work out. I think the teens are the ones that end up doing that. The point for a lot of these episodes is that the idea of teenage problems is not something more reduced or distilled than adult problems. They very much inform each other and they are very much equally as grave. I think episode 10 does that pretty well where they end talking as teens, and really dealing with a release through this party, a lot of the darkness they’ve been all accumulating throughout the season.
AVC: On a purely technically level, what was it like filming those house party scenes?
CS: Oh it was wonderful, unfortunately, and I won’t spoil too much, but I didn’t get to be in the thick of that party setting, which I kind of wish I got to experience. But it ended up looking great. Technically, it was one of the most difficult episodes for us to shoot because we had so many background actors and all of us had to be acting drunk or like we’re at a party, which is a challenging thing for 200 to 300 people. It was great. It ended up being one of our favorite episodes. To be quite honest, eight and nine, in my humble opinion, are some of our slowest episodes in the series, but really from 10 onward the momentum shifts so dramatically in intensity and speeds toward the finality of the season that it really ends up kind of changing the pace of the show.
AVC: Is the momentum part of solving the mystery of Jason’s murder?
CS: I think it’s two things. It needs to be said that we do resolve who killed Jason in season one. This is not like we’re going to string it out for you guys over six seasons. Obviously the discovery of who killed Jason only throws more stones into the pond. But it’s one of those things that I think happens naturally for the universe itself, the party becomes this necessary outlet for the steam that everyone’s been building and then it continues to gain in intensity because with each passing day that the killer is not caught there is an active killer on the loose and that only disturbs people more and more so people end up getting a little more intense that way. I also think, from a meta point of view, things start to fall into place rapidly over the last four episodes that end up really being quite intense and we needed to start showing that resolution in way that was logically cohesive.
AVC: Have you been keeping up with the internet theorizing?
CS: I keep up just a little bit. By the end of the season I had exercised theories about whodunnit to just about every character in Riverdale. So by the time we got on to the final episode and we were reading the final script we were saying, “Oh, okay, so that was the theory that made the most sense.” So it didn’t shock me too much. I think the fact that people are tying all these elements in together is really clever and it’s very intentional and they are seeing the thing that perhaps we placed in the background or as a lesser note, things that deserve recognition for internet sleuths. I think that’s fun that people are getting that involved and really trying to figure out who did it.
AVC: So you didn’t know until the final script?
CS: I had my idea, but no. Actually, episode 13, the final episode, is not the episode that it actually gets resolved. Episode 12 is the episode that it gets resolved, and episode 13 is essentially the fallout of that knowledge and basically what happens from here.
AVC: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that we have seen Jughead eat a hamburger.
CS: Nope, he has not eaten a hamburger yet, and that’s intentional. Look, we hear the fans. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who wrote this show and is the lead creative, is also the lead creative officer of Archie Comics. He knows what people want to see and there’s arguably no more qualified person in the United States to be dealing with character faithfulness, and I think he knows Jughead’s history with burgers and we know his history with burgers and don’t you guys worry. In other words, don’t you guys even worry.
AVC: I was worried.
CS: No, I know that people really want to see it. We all know that people really want to see it that’s why we have kind of kept it like a nice little thing we’ve been keeping our back pockets.
AVC: The burger-eating is as iconic as Jughead’s beanie.
CS: You rarely get to see Jughead with his beanie off. I think there are three times in the series you get to see him with his beanie off and they are all in very vulnerable moments. They are all in moments where he feels most at ease. I think the use of Jughead’s beanie is very much like his security blanket. It’s the thing that lets him stand out from the world. You should look into the history of Jughead’s beanie or his crown. It’s a very interesting history about ’30s-’40s style and trend and what it represents to Jughead. But as an actor it makes it easy because you put on the helmet and you be that superhero. It makes it a little bit easier to get into character, that’s for sure.