Cole Sprouse has long watered the nation’s crops as thinking woman’s crumpet Jughead on Riverdale. Now, he is trying to creep us the fuck out with a new podcast, Borrasca. It’s a radio serial, he explains, and it drops every Monday. Borrasca began as a creepypasta (short piece of internet horror) written by Rebecca Klingel, the woman behind The Haunting of Hill House. It was originally drip fed in instalments to Reddit’s horror story halfway house, /r/nosleep.
Sprouse, 27, has been isolating in LA ever since production shut down on Riverdale in early March. He has mostly been playing videogames and streaming films on the Criterion Channel, and was recently spotted attending a protest for Black Lives Matter (despite an arrest during a Santa Monica protest, he joined Kaia Gerber for another after his release). Sprouse, who has been famous since Big Daddy, has been quietly placing his might behind causes he believes in, while remaining absent from any tone-deaf celebrity compilation videos.
“Celebrity culture in general is under fire right now, thankfully, because of a generalised insensitivity or ignorance due to the way that other people are going through this pandemic and living through this period of time,” he says.
Sprouse knows he’s got it good.
In between marches for justice, the younger Sprouse twin has been promoting the podcast that he both acts in and produces. Borrasca is just as bone-chilling, and centres on Sam Walker (Sprouse), a teen who moves to Drisking, Missouri with his family. Mysteriously, young people from the town begin to disappear. Then his sister, Rebecca, goes missing. Sam and his two new friends, Kyle and Kimber, make their way to a nearby treehouse in the woods. Local legend has it that you must carve your name into that tree, or you might get taken by the “skinned men”.
“I’ve never been the biggest fan of the jump scare stuff,” Sprouse admits. “The kind of horror that I personally enjoy is that building of suspense, the atmospheric terror that sort of settles upon the environment, almost turning the environment into a character itself.” A podcast, he argues, is the perfect vehicle for meting out that terror. “It makes it a lot easier to use your imagination to turn the thing you fear the most into into an image, which I think is also one of the glories of something like a podcast.”
Sam mourns the disappearance of his sister, Rebecca, for the ensuing five years that she’s gone. The podcast jumps back and forth in time, and we learn that older Sam has struggled with addiction and incarceration – he’s now sober. Though Sprouse is used to playing high school aged characters, he’s left young Sam to be voiced by Charlie Shotwell. “I’m not going to go full Dexter’s Lab on us,” Sprouse says, laughing.
The fascination for voice acting, he says, came from playing video games as a kid. “I’ve always wanted to step into that arena and play a character,” he says, “and this seemed like a safe and an effective way to do so.” With podcasting taking over as a nearly one billion dollar medium – Joe Rogan, for example, recently struck a $100 million deal to bring his show over to Spotify – it seems like audio stories are not going away any time soon. QCode, which broadcasts Borrasca, has cornered the market in terms of longform narrative stories. “They’ve done a couple [podcasts], one with Rami Malek, one with Chloe Grace Moretz… And they’re seeing this cult fascination on the podcast streaming services,” Sprouse says. He wanted in.
With a story like Borrasca, Sprouse is hoping that an easy-to-follow, hair-raising story will win out over any other entertainment distractions that are currently available with a simple click. “I think as we move on and we question what our role is as audience members within entertainment, we do see that people desire to be more passive, or at least that there is a there is a tremendous market for a passive audience within the evolution of entertainment mediums over time,” Sprouse says, noting things like video gaming and VR. But, he’s quick to add, “there’s still space for all the forms of media that demand the audience member to be more of it, and to use their imagination.”
Subscribe to Borrasca here.