When I click into my Zoom meeting with Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton, they're already debriefing about the SAG Awards Season Celebration party they attended the night prior with their Hollywood peers, dishing on who left when and how the night ended up. In that moment, I wished I could toss out the questions I'd prepared for them and just be a fly on the wall listening to their banter. If I didn't know any better, I'd assume the two have been working alongside each other for years based on the inside jokes and heartfelt compliments being tossed back and forth. In reality, the forthcoming comedy horror flick Lisa Frankenstein (in theaters February 9) marks the first time the actors are sharing the screen, and it's a duo so good it hopefully won't be the last.
The two have had parallel paths in the industry, something they admit to bonding over on set. Both came up in Hollywood as child actors, Sprouse from age 1 and Newton from age 4. They're each well-versed in the YA genre: Sprouse, of course, is a Disney Channel alum who starred in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody before graduating to a high schooler in the hit CW series Riverdale and featuring in rom-coms Moonshot and Five Feet Apart. For her part, Newton played the lead in Amazon's The Map of Tiny Perfect Things and a teen in Netflix's The Society. Whether because of or despite their career longevity, both have noteworthy side hustles outside of acting—Sprouse's esteemed photography portfolio and Newton's successful golf career. The commonalities run deep, yet in many ways, the two are opposites. Sprouse is cerebral and loquacious, while Newton strikes me as bouncy and lighthearted. Newton is perched in a pink sweat set with bow-adorned Ugg boots, her three poodles tip-tapping lightly in the background. Sprouse wears backless New Balance sneakers that he refers to as "dad mode" and admits to playing the video game Rogue Trader at his desk before our call. Despite these differences, their chemistry as co-workers and friends is palpable both on and off the screen.
This immediately became apparent a few scenes into Lisa Frankenstein, which has all the makings of the next cult horror flick. Set in the '80s, the classic coming-of-age story follows an angsty teen (Newton) and her love interest (Sprouse), who just so happens to be a corpse from the Victorian era. The film was written by Diablo Cody, the mastermind behind iconic camp titles such as Jennifer's Body and Juno, and directed by Zelda Williams (her dad is Robin Williams—maybe you've heard of him?) in her directorial debut. Lisa Frankenstein is 120 minutes of belly-laughing, jaw-dropping ridiculousness—a guaranteed wild ride from start to finish.
When they weren't dressed in '80s prom and Victorian-era attire respectively, I got caught up with Newton and Sprouse fresh off the set of our January cover shoot and on the precipice of a booming post-strike award season. The mid-20s actress and early-30s actor collectively have more TV and movie credits under their belts than some career actors double their age but none of the pretentiousness. They were eager to discuss their longevity in the industry and express gratitude toward the high school–aged roles that got them to where they are now. Whether it's '80s fashion, careers outside of acting, or getting to work with your best friends, it's impossible not to get excited by Sprouse and Newton when they're geeking out about what they love.
First of all, I'm so excited about the whole vision of this cover shoot with the retro car, the trunk luggage, and the Bonnie and Clyde references. How do you think the shoot went?
Kathryn Newton: First of all, Cole is the consummate professional because he's always just down to play. He doesn't say no to anything. [He does] the "yes, and…" thing. So together, like you see in the movie, we really go there. We just had a lot of fun. We leaned into the clothes, the sets, and the creative direction. Cole and I were just fully in Bonnie and Clyde mode, looking over our shoulders and pretending to be in love.
Cole Sprouse: I always geek out when I get to work with photographers [I admire], too, because we just sit and chat about cameras and whatnot. It's easy when you're working with someone like Kathryn, who's also just capable of pulling out the character stuff immediately. I think being an actor on that side of the camera is always a lot of play. It's always a collaboration between the people that are being shot and the photographer—the subjects have to push themselves a little bit if the shots are really going to turn out well. It's easy when you already have a rapport with the person you're being shot with, to just push it a little.
Cole, you've also built a photography career for yourself, so being that you're often the one behind the camera on fashion shoots, has that altered your experience of being the subject when it comes to promoting your own projects?
CS: I'm a big believer in every department just doing what they're trained and good at. I find the more that you try to be hands-on if your role is a bit more passive, the worse the shots turn out. If you're in front of the camera, just play and go. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and the photographer will know almost immediately. For me, it doesn't really feel weird. It's just the difference between if I want to be in a more passive or a more active role.
KN: I was wondering if being a photographer helps you create a shot. With some of these pictures, if the composition is right, the way you're posing is right, and the angle is better, it makes the image better. I feel like there are no guys who know their angles. You know how to make a shot a photograph. It was cinematic. There's an energy there. You're telling a lot of a story in the pictures with me but also in the solo ones I saw of you, like the one of you running. I love that one.
CS: Look, I don't hold back anything for the photo. It was hot out that day, and they put me in some shorts, which is a rare occasion. It's very rare to see Cole Sprouse in some shorts.
See that, people? You're getting an exclusive on Cole Sprouse's knees! Well, I'm excited to dive into Lisa Frankenstein because the movie had me laughing out loud. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. How did you both get involved with the project to begin with? What were your initial thoughts?
KN: I had a Zoom with our director, Zelda Williams, and I remember being really inspired after getting off the phone with her. She sounded like she was a risk-taker. She was encouraging me because one of my biggest fears of the movie is the fact that my amazing co-star Cole Sprouse doesn't speak. I was like, "What are we supposed to do here? How are we going to make a movie?" Then it was pretty much a no-brainer after reading screenwriter Diablo Cody's script. She can do no wrong, and it was just so exciting and delicious and fun. It was nothing like what I thought the movie was going to be, nor was it anything like what we shot, so I was pleasantly blown away.
What would you say surprised you the most?
KN: I would say it was about how big my character became. I thought my character was the quiet one and soon realized you can't be the quiet one since Cole's character doesn't speak. It changed everything. I watched She-Devil and Death Becomes Her to get some inspiration and learn to take up space. But I wouldn't have been able to do it without Cole. It felt like we were all one—Zelda, Cole, and I. We were all on the same page.
Cole, you basically have zero lines in the movie save for a few animated grunts. In fact, your character isn't even granted a name. You're only referred to as "Creature" when the credits roll. You've known director Zelda Williams for a while, and with this being her directorial debut, what were some of those early conversations like?
CS: Those [grunts] weren't even part of the original [script]! Those were [improvised] on the day of. For me personally, I was excited to shut the hell up. I was like, "Damn, I've done a lot, a lot of talking over the last five, six years. What would happen if I didn't do any of that?" The script presented the challenge of needing a really strong female lead and a strong female lead that had a solid sense of humor. Kathryn came up because I had known Kathryn for a couple of years. Zelda and I put our heads together and were like, "Alright, are we going to beg? What are we going to do here to try and secure the Kathryn bag?" When she got on board, we knew that this was really going to work. Diablo's writing is like bubble gum. It's really big, but it requires delivery that is authentic and genuine in order to work, so you need someone that has a sense of timing and a sense of humor. Kathryn immediately brought the life that we needed with it.
Had you been a fan of Diablo Cody's work for a while?
KN: Jennifer's Body was the first horror film I ever saw. It blew my mind. It's still one of my favorite horror films. I've seen it a million times, and the soundtrack is on my phone. I was really nervous to meet Diablo because she's the mastermind behind it, and I didn't want to let her down. But she really handed it off and gave us the freedom. Even though Cole doesn't speak, the way he had created this character, no one could have done it the way he did with such care and grace. It's a really big honor to be a part of her Diablo universe.
Was there anything that you both had to do specifically to prepare for your respective roles? For you, Cole, it seems to be a lot of body language. For you, Kathryn, it feels a lot more about hitting the right tone with the lines and bringing that lightheartedness into it.
CS: I worked with a movement coach for three months. He was a mime, which I thought was a fun way to play with [my character's] voicelessness. He is a great dude. He drives a car that has a license plate that just says speechless, which I thought was really hilarious. We built on a lot of Buster Keaton, the old silent-movie stars. The groaning came later when we were on set. That felt like a character that was really desperately trying to speak.
So the grunting was something you just improvised?
CS: Yeah, after many years of smoking cigarettes, I can croak. Gravelly voice? I was like, "Alright, cigarettes are gonna make you some money. Silver lining. Let's go."
I know that you two had worked with each other prior to Lisa Frankenstein when Cole shot you, Kathryn, for a spread that ended up in Interview magazine in 2020. Was that the first time you two met?
KN: I actually met Zack and Cody ages ago. I was probably 8, and they must have been, I don't know, 12. I was at Bob's Big Boy, and they were in their booth, and I got a picture with them. [As for the shoot,] it was actually just a shoot we did in my house. That's when we made magic. We got couture gowns from Valentino. My amazing hairstylist Renato brought all these wigs. I really think it was a precursor to Lisa Frankenstein because it was a very camp shoot. I had all these ideas about how the character was a woman who kills all her husbands, and she's really wealthy now with all her poodles. The photos are some of my favorite photos ever taken of me. It was just [Cole] and his camera—really low-key.
CS: When Kathryn went, "I have three poodles," I thought, "I can go with this."
KN: He didn't ask for my dogs' availability call. You can't afford them, but they would have done it for free.
CS: Next time I need three poodles, I'll let you know.
In general, you're both used to playing these younger characters who are often in high school. What is it about these kinds of roles that draws you in? Do you feel nostalgic for your own high school experience? Do you feel like you get to go back and rewrite the script a bit?
KN: I think that there is an element of rewriting the script to do things you wouldn't have done in your real life. For me, though, the young audience is the most important one because they're going to continue to grow with me, and I want to continue to grow with them. I do projects because I feel like no one else can do them. I just hope that the audience does like [Lisa Frankenstein]. It's a coming-of-age story, but something that we haven't seen in a while. This one, in particular, gave me a lot of nostalgia for the movies I grew up with that are colorful and bright—[the movies where] you lean in and you don't ask too many questions. You just go on a wild ride and are entertained.
CS: I think I've just aged. For a while, yeah, for sure. But at 31 and playing a teen? It's just not as believable as it once was. I would be so lucky, though. I would be so lucky to play high school my whole life!
I think that's a good point to bring up. Cole, you just wrapped seven seasons of Riverdale, where you were on location in Canada for many months on end and many seasons on end. Do you feel ready to "grow up" as far as your next characters are concerned?
CS: I get this question a lot. To be honest, I don't think about it too much. I think there are really compelling parts all over the age map. The more that you build an idea and aim for it professionally, the less it comes true. The one thing I will say is that I would love to shoot in California. Yeah, that's the manifestation I'm trying to put out. Right down the street at the studio complexes. Come home for lunch to my own house.
Do you hear that, universe? Manifesting it for you, Cole. Well, I'm curious. Age aside, what are the things about the projects you take on that you're like, "Oh my gosh, yes." Is it something in particular or more of a gut feeling? I feel like for you, Kathryn, you've had such a great breadth of projects, from critically acclaimed titles like Three Billboards and Big Little Lies to Marvel movies. Is there anything that stands out in the process of choosing the roles?
KN: The thing that stands out to me is, What am I going to get to bring to this role? Who are the people I'm going to surround myself with? What kind of conversations are we going to have on set to make this story? My process for roles hasn't really changed much. It's always been, What can I do for this movie? The second thing is, Who am I gonna get to hang out with every day?
I want to get into the fashion in the movie because I feel like it's so good. Your looks really capture the '80s perfectly, but I also feel like you are so comfortable in this aesthetic. What were some of the references that you brought forth? Do you create a mood board before a project like this?
KN: [The costume designer Meagan McLaughlin] brought along actual vintage from her own closet, but then to supplement, we went to Hot Topic, obviously. I like a fit-and-flare on camera. I find silhouettes beautiful from old movies like Bringing Up Baby and Breakfast at Tiffany's, so I wanted that kind of silhouette because I thought that was very camp to have me always in a shirt and a skirt cinched at the waist. We see her character progress from wearing big gaucho pants to leaning into her powerful femininity. … When she becomes the most monstrous is when she's in her cutest outfit, in my opinion.
Both of you have these amazing creative outlets that you've cultivated outside of your acting. Kathryn, you are an avid golfer working with the LPGA and R&A, and you're competing and crushing it, which is so amazing. Cole, your photography, I would say, seems to be your biggest focus outside of acting. I see that a bit more with you two than with other actors in your peer group. Are these passions as necessary to your creative life as acting is?
KN: In life, you're always told you can only be one thing. I'm a golfer who acts, and sometimes, I'm an actor who golfs. If I'm not working, I go play golf with my dad on the weekend. … I just did a movie in Ireland, and one of the producers was a big golfer, so every other weekend, I got to go to these beautiful places in the country and play these incredible golf courses. I'm trying to create a space in this golf world for more accessibility for young people not to just start playing but to continue to be golfers their whole lives because it's been such a gift [for me]. It's given me a lot of confidence.
CS: You're talking to actors that were also kid actors, right? I think that comes along with a perspective on acting that is understanding it's a job. It's a financial pursuit alongside a kind of artistic pursuit. For me, the photography thing was one area where I could flex my own creative control in a much more active way alongside an acting career that you can't predict the future of and one where there's not a lot of security. I need to do something outside of this other arena if I'm going to have a healthy relationship to work. I'm a huge proponent of actors having another career alongside acting.
To your point, you've both been acting from such a young age. Cole, you've been vocal about the fact that it wasn't always a choice. It was often out of financial necessity. Kathryn, you've likewise been in the industry since you were 4. How does that influence your current approach?
CS: When a lot of people talk about acting, they talk about the beauty and the passion of acting, and they forget that it's also a job. The healthiest relationship is somewhere in the middle, where you can go, "Alright, I ideally want to do one for me and one for the coffers."
KN: We found a lot of common ground, and we had some amazing discussions about it on [the set of] Lisa Frankenstein. I felt like I was so similar in my approach, where we take it seriously, but we don't identify with it. I've been an actress since I was 4. Every experience I had has been like candy. It's just been fun. I went to real school my whole life, so there was this experience of "Is school real, or is the job that I'm on set for real?" Neither one of them felt like reality. I was class president, and I did the commencement speech and everything. I loved school and being a kid who was super uncool and then going to set and shooting 15-hour days and then going back to school and having to take five tests. These are the things that have made me who I am, and I wouldn't change anything.
I can't help but think that this mindset is really unique to folks like you who have been doing this job for so many years. It's essentially the defining experience of your life. Did you ever look back and maybe feel any type of resentment or regret about the way that the industry made you grow up quicker and faster than kids your own age?
CS: Great question. I don't hold resentment. It comes with an incredible amount of privilege, and also, you do kind of know what you're signing up for. I might not have had as much agency over career decisions as a kid, but it made complete and logical sense at the time as to why we were doing the thing that we were doing.
KN: What's funny is I feel like I'm just getting started all the time. Every time I finish a project, I feel like I'm never going to work again. To piggyback on what Cole is saying, the longer you do it, the less you need to do your job. I don't need anything to do my scene. I don't need a coffee. I don't need five minutes to get ready. If you say "action," I'm ready. [Cole is similar to me in that way.] I wonder if it's because we did grow up as child actors. The roles have required more of me as I've matured simply with age and material. Now, the material just asks more of you. I feel like I'm just getting started because now I'm at a new level.
I want to pivot a little to the topic of your relationship to the fashion world. You're both regulars at fashion week—Kathryn, I know you're a Ralph Lauren girl, and Cole, you attended your fair share of spring/summer 2024 shows during Paris Fashion Week as well. Is this a world that you are actively trying to further yourself in?
KN: I'm just constantly inspired. Cole is someone who I think has an amazing personal style. He says something with his looks. I don't think any of it is on accident.
What are some of the brands that you would say you have the best relationships with and that are the ones you keep coming back to in terms of your personal style?
CS: I like brands that are … unabashedly moving in a very particular direction. I think Versace leans into decadence and opulence in a really cool way unashamedly. I think Demna with Balenciaga is doing something really fun by not taking itself too seriously and creating a self-awareness that can be self-deprecating, which is so on-brand for me.
I am so excited to see what you both will pull out for the press tours for this movie. What are some of the conversations and themes that are being thrown around? Are either of you working with a stylist for your press outings?
KN: I know Zelda and I are contemplating if we all wear the same suit to the premiere or whether I should dress up as Lisa or if we should both dress up as Lisa and wear the wigs. I have a lot of vintage archival pieces that are from either the Versace 1997 collection or Chanel 1984. I'm in constant flux of whether I should just be myself and wear my own stuff or wear what's new. But I think vintage for this movie is where my heart's at. I think it's time to pull out the big pieces.
CS: I don't normally [work with a stylist], no. That's the first time on a press tour that I'm not working with a stylist. I actually feel way more confident when I'm just going into my own personal closet and throwing on what I wear.
Wait, I'm honestly shocked by that. I was expecting both of you to say that you work with a stylist—if not in an everyday capacity, then at least for red carpet outings.
CS: The beauty of the relationships that I think Kathryn and I both have to these certain brands now is that we can go, "Hey, I have this thing coming up."
KN: When I was 14 for the Bad Teacher premiere, I used all my money and bought a Valentino dress. I didn't know the rules that you can ask a brand for an outfit, right? So the person I bought the dress from was like, "You need to know [publicist] Katie Goodwin." So then, Katie met me, and she invited me to the Valentino show, where [Creative Director] Pierpaolo [Piccioli] knew the dress. I wore it again to my prom. It paid off so much that I just liked fashion and Valentino. Well, you've seen my looks. Valentino has been a huge part of my fashion story.
What a full-circle moment. I love how genuinely that relationship started for you. Clearly, you have such a good eye. Well, as much as I could keep chatting with you two for another several hours, I realize I've kept you way over our allotted time, and you've let me!
CS: You have some really great questions. I feel bad for you because you're gonna have to find a way to condense all of this.
Photographer: Beau Grealy
Stylist and Editorial Director: Lauren Eggertsen
Production Director: Samantha Rockman
Video Director: Stephanie Romero
Cinematographer: Erick Turcios
Camera Assistant: Adam Roenker
Video Editor: Collin Hughart
Sound Mixer: Jason Flaster
Executive Director of Entertainment: Jessica Baker
VP of Creative: Alexa Wiley
Anna is an editor on the fashion team at Who What Wear and has been at the company for over five years, having begun her career in the Los Angeles office before relocating to New York, where she's currently based. Having always been passionate about pursuing a career in fashion, she built up her experience interning at the likes of Michael Kors, A.L.C., and College Fashionista before joining the team as a post-graduate. Anna has penned a number of interviews with Who What Wear's cover stars, including A-listers Megan Fox, Issa Rae, and Emma Chamberlain. She's earned a reputation for scouting new and emerging brands from across the globe and championing them to our audience of millions. While fashion is her main wheelhouse, Anna led the launch of WWW Travels, a new lifestyle vertical that highlights all things travel through a fashion-person lens. She is passionate about shopping vintage, whether it be at a favorite local outpost or an on-the-road discovery, and has amassed a wardrobe full of unique finds. When she's not writing, you can find her shooting street imagery on her film camera, attempting to learn a fourth or fifth language, or planning her next trip across the globe.
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