“I don’t really have the desire to depart from the previous image that I feel like a lot of people do,” the former child star says of getting back into acting in recent years
Longtime fans of Dylan Sprouse remember him and his twin brother Cole getting into trouble as teenagers living in a hotel on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Now in one of his first acting roles since graduating from New York University and opening a meadery in Brooklyn, Sprouse plays a teen once more, only this time with more partying, sex and swear words than in his Disney Channel days.
Sprouse’s new movie Banana Split sees the former child star take on the role of long-haired Nick, a hormonal Los Angeles high schooler who turns his friendship with April (Hannah Marks) romantic. April loses her virginity to Nick and their relationship lasts for two years. After the breakup, Nick starts seeing a new girl, Clara (Liana Liberato), and April prepares to spend the summer before heading off to college in Boston totally hating her — until they actually meet. Clara and April become fast friends and make a pact to keep their relationship uncomplicated by not mentioning Nick. That only lasts for so long, though, and as expected, things get messy.
Though Sprouse — who’s currently dating Victoria’s Secret model Barbara Palvin — didn’t have the traditional high school experience since he spent most of those years on set, he did go off to college and understands the significance of making the most of that final summer before starting fresh at college.
“I actually took a kind of gap year and made sure that I could spend some time to tap into things I’m doing, which is probably one of the most formative experiences to translating your relationships into adulthood that you possibly can do so,” Sprouse, 27, tells PEOPLE.
He reflects on his teenage years, re-introducing himself to the acting world with Banana Split and whether he’d work with his brother again.
You haven’t done much acting since Suite Life, so what appealed to you about Banana Split?
When I started reading the script, I just blew through it. Normally that’s a good sign of a fun script and something that I’d like to participate in. I loved how it was kind of a new spin on a classic film design. So I set up a call with Hannah Marks and [director] Benjamin Kasulke and we ended up talking and vibing on the subject matter. They were looking for a Nick and I was like, “Well, I’d love to be a part of it.” We ended up filming up in Syracuse in the winter for a movie that was set in the summer of California, which I thought was pretty funny.
What did you think of Syracuse? What did you do up there for fun?
We ate a lot of Pastabilities and a lot of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. But we were pretty much snowed in for a lot of it. I found that the actual town of Syracuse was really quaint though. I liked it. It was really walkable. Everyone there was really kind and the actual film environment there, the sets and everything were very well developed. I think Syracuse is really rad. Plus it’s close to where I lived in New York City, so it was nice.
What does the title of the movie mean?
The title is definitely a tongue-in-cheek jab at a banana split. So Nick is definitely the titular banana that they are splitting is the joke of it. But I think it’s also referencing the summer vibes and this old kind of high school rom-com in general. And they worked at an ice cream shop, so it has a lot to do with the story as well. But it’s definitely about them two splitting a banana.
Does doing a movie like this kind of give you a taste of that “normal” high school experience you didn’t have?
Not really. Obviously high school was very different but I mean it’s not something that was so actively taken into account if I must be honest. It’s not something that I’ve ever envied. I went to college at NYU. I got the experience of it to a degree.
Why the long hair? Was that your choice or Hannah’s since she also wrote and executive produced the film?
It’s a little bit of both. After Banana Split, I knew that I was flying to China to go film a fantasy romance movie for six months. The director had told me after getting that role, before filming Banana Split, to grow my hair out and keep it long. So I had grown it after I got the news that I was doing that movie but I also just felt like it kind of fit for Nick too though. A lot of boys that age grow their hair out and then have a transformation moment before they go to college. And it was based in California so I feel like it was appropriate.
Have you ever been in a situation like Nick where someone you’re seeing becomes friends with an ex?
No. I try not to s— where I eat but I have seen things like that happen. But it’s usually only after both are exes. It’s never happened to me personally. I know that in terms of Hannah Marks, something like this did actually happened. So it’s kind of fictionalized reality for her in general.
As you’ve been diving back into acting, have you been making a conscious effort to choose roles that separate you from your Disney days?
My only conscious choice is to pick roles that are different from the other roles that I have done to a degree. I don’t really have the desire to depart from the previous image that I feel like a lot of people do. I don’t really care so much. The only thing that I’m really conscious of is trying to pick projects that I’ve got to stretch my legs acting a little bit doing. I don’t really like to do roles that are overlapping in terms of character similarity, especially since I’m kind of relatively recently back into the game. I want to create more of a diverse portfolio of character work to a degree. But a lot of the times if I respond to the script and I respond to the character that’s enough of criteria for me.
You did recently posted about the importance of Suite Life in your life. What does this show still mean to you 15 years after its premiere?
Those were some of the most formative moments of my youth. It was from when I was 11 years old to the last episode was filmed on both my brother and I’s 18th birthday. It was a very, very special time. I would never change it for the world.
If it was the right part and the right script, would you work with your brother again?
Yeah, certainly. I mean, we’re talking about something right now actually that we’ve been developing together with a close friend of ours. It has to be self-aware and look — twin roles are often times s—, that’s just the truth. They’re usually stereotypical, they’re dumb or they’re hokey or they’re just played by one actor in a green screen. It has to be the right thing for sure. But it is something that we’re not adverse to and we’re actively discussing.
Banana Split is available now on digital and on demand.