Read the full interview with our Spring 19 cover stars, who lead hard-hitting romantic drama, Five Feet Apart.
Cole wears all clothing LOUIS VUITTON. Haley wears jacket CHANEL, bag COACH 1941, shoes PIERRE HARDY, tights WOLFORD
Cole wears all clothing LOUIS VUITTON. Haley wears jacket CHANEL, bag COACH 1941, shoes PIERRE HARDY, tights WOLFORD
Five Feet Apart has all the traits of your classic teen romance flick. A headstrong but kind girl meets an ever-so-slightly bad boy and after an introduction full of acerbic put-downs, some light flirting and one DMC (that’s “deep meaningful conversation” for the uninitiated of you) sat by a pool, they find themselves in the full-throes of an all-consuming crush. The only difference in Five Feet Apart – our protagonists Stella and Will aren’t allowed to touch.
Played by Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse respectively, the teenagers both have cystic fibrosis, an inherited genetic disorder that disrupts the body’s ability to move salt and water between cells and causes mucus to build up in the lungs. The pair meet on a hospital ward where they’re both receiving treatment, and aren’t allowed within six feet of each other (or any other CF patients) in case they fatally pass bacteria.
Sprouse’s Will exercises eternal nonchalance about his illness, resigned to the inevitability that life will always be hard for him. Richardson’s Stella however — much like the actor herself — is an optimist, sticking to her treatments and restrictions religiously, thriving off her ability to control at least that aspect of her life. Until Will arrives, that is.
This being a story about teenagers experiencing feelings of love and lust for the first time, they push the boundaries as far as they dare to, and eventually their attitudes begin merge, sharing their coping mechanisms for living with the disorder. Stella has spent her life documenting her treatments online through her YouTube channel, and in a heartwarming epiphany explains to her followers she’s realised how to learn to let go thanks to her first brush with romance.
For actor Justin Baldoni’s first film as director, the cast and crew met with patients and medical practitioners to ensure their dramatisation has much real-life weight as possible. Sprouse and Richardson consulted with the late Claire Wineland — a cystic fibrosis advocate who had hundreds of thousands of followers on her own YouTube channel, raising awareness through her own experience — in an effort to portray what a patient of CF goes through with as much accuracy and respect as possible.
The result is a heartstring-pulling, eye-stinging high- stakes drama that’ll teach the general public about even the basic limitations surrounding cystic fibrosis. Wonderland spoke to Sprouse and Richardson about their month on set, what we can learn from Five Feet Apart and what made them want to front what feels like such an important moment on screen.
(LEFT) Cole and Haley wear all clothing COACH 1941
(RIGHT) Cole and Haley wear all clothing SAINT LAURENT
Cole and Haley wear all clothing COACH 1941
Cole and Haley wear all clothing SAINT LAURENT
Haley! I’ve been reading a lot about you and every article seems to have every film you’re in pinned as your ‘moment’. What do you feel has been your moment?
I don’t know if there’s been some huge moment. I have realistically been lucky. I moved to LA almost seven years ago now and, aside from that first year or two where no-one even knew my name and I didn’t know how to do anything and everything was awkward and clumsy and I wasn’t making any money, I have been lucky because after I got my feet wet, each thing got more interesting to me, and it was more of a consistent slow build. I still feel like a lot of the world doesn’t know about me to be honest. But I like the slow build, because I think it’s more lasting for the long term, and I want to act forever. So I don’t mind it, I’m surrendering to the slow build!
You moved to LA from Arizona, right? What was it like growing up there, do you have fond memories of it? Or were you excited to get out and move to LA and start acting?
I love Arizona, I think it’s the most beautiful state I’ve ever been to. And of all the pictures I’ve seen of the states I haven’t been to, I think it’s the most beautiful state. Have you ever seen way, way north with the Grand Canyon, and near the border with Utah? It’s so cool, it looks like Mars – I think I’m an alien. I went on a road trip a couple of years ago with my boyfriend, and we drove from Tucson which is really south, all the way up to the border of Utah, through Vegas and back to LA. If you have travel plans, that’s what you should do! One minute you’re going through flat, grey land, then 100 miles north there’s the painted desert, which is amazing. It’s really cool. Arizona’s epic. It’s not that I was eager to get away, I became obsessed with this idea of acting, you know? When I was 14/15 I became obsessed with this idea and future for myself, and when I become obsessed with something I go all in, and I did.
What do you think sparked the obsession?
I think it was a mixture of things. I’m an only child… It was a different type of comfort level – I grew up really fortunate, because my parents loved each other and loved me, especially since I was the only one. They didn’t spoil me with things, but they spoiled me with care and opportunity. My whole life, if I wanted to do gymnastics, they signed me up for gymnastics, if I wanted to do dance, they signed me up for dance, which I did actually, that was my whole life ‘til I moved to LA when I was 16. I did competitive dancing, and really got that type of storytelling and the physical aspect of dance, and that was what inspired me… I was in community theatre and summer camp plays growing up, but that was just for fun, it was the dancing that I really did seriously. But, when I was imagining what I was going to do with my life, this acting thing came up. Every movie and TV show I watched, I’d look at these kids and think, ‘I can do that, I think!’
You put it out into the universe and it happened!
That’s a real thing, that works! I’m a crazy person that will literally stand by my house in the mountains or on the beach and yell into the water what I want to happen, yell it to the universe, and it works, it really does!
I might try that, if it worked for you.
Yell it into the snow and rain!
Not quite as dreamy… So Five Feet Apart, you signed on to the project in April last year, then started filming a month later and had finished it within a month! Sounds like a whirlwind to me, how did you get involved?
I’ve known Justin [Baldoni, the director] for the past five years, because he’s on the show Jane the Virgin with my boyfriend. He’s actually my fiancé – I know I keep calling him my boyfriend, I think fiancé sounds really pretentious so I just say boyfriend.
Then, a couple of years ago, he was like: ‘Haley, I have this movie I want to make, and I want you to play the lead.’ I rolled my eyes, because I was like, ‘Oh Justin, good for you that you’re trying to make a movie, but if it does get made, there’s no way that the studio are going to want me to do it.’ At that time, I hadn’t really done that much that people had seen. Early last year, I got [the script], and for some reason, it didn’t really click with me. I was at this place in my life where I wanted to do really super, super grounded, quiet movies that weren’t magical. And this movie was so magical, the stakes were so high, and I think that everything about the movie is so much.
Justin came back to me and asked me to come to his set on a lunch break. He went through the entire script with me, and hearing him talk about how passionate he was about the movie, and the characters in this real life struggle… He talked about how I would have the freedom to make it as grounded as possible in this world, and I got really, really excited about it, and completely opened my eyes to the possibility of it, the movie and the story… Then I did it! And I’m so glad I did it. There’s the long story!
(LEFT) Cole wears all clothing SAINT LAURENT. Haley wears blouse, jacket, shorts, belt and shoes SAINT LAURENT, tights WOLFORD
(RIGHT) Haley wears all clothing LOUIS VUITTON
Cole wears all clothing SAINT LAURENT. Haley wears blouse, jacket, shorts, belt and shoes SAINT LAURENT, tights WOLFORD
Haley wears all clothing LOUIS VUITTON
I get what you’re saying about a lot happening — there’s a lot of ups and a lot of downs — I understand what you mean about keeping it grounded. It’s not that glamorised, there’s a scene where you’re spitting mucus into a tray…
I was like, ‘No, we’re not going to have my hair in a leading lady curly wave. My hair’s going to be messy and in a ponytail, because we’re in a hospital.’ We really wanted to make it as accurate and grounded as possible. I feel like these types of movies don’t have as much impact, because the story is a love story, about what people go through to find each other and it’s so epic. And it’s so heavy, and beautiful, and it’s so much about all of those things, that the actual characters, and their dialogue, the conversations with each other, and what they looked like, had to be as stripped away and grounded as possible, or it would just be an unbelievable movie. And we want people to know that CF really exists, and want people to really feel the struggle of these people, and to believe the hardships they are going through, and what they overcome, and then, you know, they connect, and are really inspired as opposed to movie-world inspired.
Absolutely. I definitely felt that. Cystic fibrosis is something I know of but never something I’ve learnt about. I know you and Cole both consulted with Claire Wineland, the late activist and CF advocate who shared her life with the illness on YouTube to hundreds of thousands of followers. Did you meet her in person?
I did meet Claire Wineland, and I got to hang out with her twice, which was amazing and I will always remember that. Of all of the things that I’m grateful for doing this movie, meeting her and having her be so open and talking to me and just getting to know her was the number one thing I’m most thankful for. She really had a lot to do with the movie; meeting her was what inspired Justin to make this movie to begin with. It’s not a story of her life, but I don’t think the movie would have been what it was if it weren’t for Claire and the care she put into the movie. She actually said something to me when we were having lunch one day, all of her wisdom and all she knew, she just poured out to me, because she wanted me to know this, because she cared about this movie being real and connecting to her group and her audience. And she said, ‘I think the most important thing you should know for this movie is that there’s two types of people with CF. There’s the type that live for their treatment, then there’s the type who does their treatment to live. If you’re the type that lives for your treatment, there’s gonna be a time in your life before you die when you realise: “What have I been doing my whole life?” The whole point of life is to live. Then so much happens, and you start doing your treatment so that you can live your life.’ And we actually put the essence of that line in the movie, and I think it’s the most beautiful line of the movie, and it makes me cry because I imagine sitting next to Claire and her telling me that. I feel like the film not only speaks to the CF community, but hopefully, when people see it, it means so much more than just that as well.
She sounds amazing, I’ve been reading a lot about her and people had lots of beautiful things to say. It’s great that you could put something so similar to what she said in the film. And her having such a huge audience too, there’s a whole community that you don’t know about unless you’re a part of it. Was that something you guys were introduced to?
We had a CF nurse on set every day. She’s seen up close and personally everything you could imagine with these kids with CF. I have one scene where Stella finds out she has to go under general anaesthetic. And I didn’t really know what the weight of that would mean for someone with CF, and I went up to ask her about it and she said: ‘Even if you’re the toughest kid with CF, if you’re told you have to go under general in surgery, that is terrifying because there’s such a high chance of something going wrong and you dying in there, and not seeing anyone you love ever again, but you have no choice other than to do it, otherwise it will spread and your organs won’t work properly, so you have no other choice.’ Just having her there helped us remember the weight of all of this in each of these individual situations.
Obviously this is a film, it’s a dramatisation, but I’ve read about some people online having issues with the way treatments and Will and Stella’s physical proximity is displayed, what do you hope people with and without cystic fibrosis will take away from it?
For the CF community, obviously this is such a personal thing for them. Even though there’s a lot of people that have it, it is a rare disease and it’s a really tight community and, from what I’ve seen on the internet, they’re all really passionate. It’s such a personal thing for them, having their life, in a way, put on display in such a big way, so I understand.
I hope that, when anyone sees the full movie, they’ll see the care that we all put into that specific aspect, that it was so important representing that in the best way, the most grounded way that we could.
A lot of your other acting credits — like M. Night Shyamalan’s Split — have required a lot of crying and screaming too, and they’re really emotional. I’ve got to ask, is that something you enjoy?
[Laughs] It is very therapeutic, you have to kind of enjoy that stuff to begin with to be an actor, because that’s what’s expected of you. You have to be vulnerable, and feel comfortable being vulnerable, no matter what it is – whether you feel like you’re going to be eaten with a man with 23 personalities, or stepping into the shoes of someone who has an extreme life-threatening disease. It forces you to connect you to yourself and your emotions in a way that nothing else really forces from you in life. So I do enjoy it, in a weird way, it’s therapeutic, it’s cathartic, it makes me more empathetic as a person, and it’s fun sometimes even.
Walking into work and screaming – I think most people feel that!
I said to Cole, ‘How am I meant to do this flirtatious scene with you and then all of a sudden be sobbing and throwing things around my room?’ And he was like, ‘Well, you just have to be a sociopath!’ That’s what you have to be when you’re an actor, you have to be a sociopath, and on the drop of a dime do all these different things, and connect with them wholeheartedly.
In the film, I love that Stella has a daily to-do list and a life to-do list… What is something that you think everyone should have on their life to-do list? And what’s something you have on your life to-do list?
Something lame came to my mind first, so maybe there’s a reason for that. I feel like a lot of people aren’t comfortable spending time with themselves. At least one time in someone’s life, you should take yourself on a date, just by yourself, dinner and a movie.
For me, my biggest dream has been to mix my acting and dancing together, and bring back the classic dance movies – bring back the Gene Kelly of the past, and make it a thing for now. Mark my word!
Shout it into the ocean!
I will, I have!
(LEFT) Cole wears all clothing LOUIS VUITTON
(RIGHT) Cole wears all clothing and accessories THOM BROWNE. Haley wears all clothing THOM BROWNE, shoes MOSCHINO
Cole wears all clothing LOUIS VUITTON
Cole wears all clothing and accessories THOM BROWNE. Haley wears all clothing THOM BROWNE, shoes MOSCHINO
Cole! How are you, where in the world are you right now?
I’m in Vancouver. Sunny Vancouver. It’s pretty cold. You’re in London, yeah? I assume we’re in pretty similar climates. That sort of year-long grey.
Pretty much. Great for the seasonal depression…
Take your vitamin D pills, turn on those happy lights, and just bask on the couch. I find that’s the best way to deal with it.
I’m assuming you’re in Vancouver for Riverdale? The last time we spoke was when you were in Wonderland in 2017. Riverdale had just started to air. It’s blown up! Why do you think it’s resonated with so many people? What’s the secret formula?
I think there’s this cynicism, or perhaps this pretentiousness within all of us that looks at teen dramas with a schlocky nature. And due to the fact that Riverdale sort of, in a self-aware capacity, also does that, while maintaining a level of quality with cinematography and with some other technical elements, I feel like it hit the nail on the head.
I think teen dramas come off as very soap-y, and can often be two-dimensional in terms of quality. And if the writers have the ability to, like I said, be self-aware enough to recognise the genre elements of something like a teen drama and poke fun at it, then it manages to be a fun viewing experience. You can keep the camp, and you can keep the more outrageous qualities of it while simultaneously keeping the fun and not coming off as too scathing or critical. So I don’t know, I feel like in media right now there is also a lack of that kind of content. We came into place and slid like a puzzle piece into a gap that existed.
It’s like nothing else. I’ve missed some episodes and have tried to ask people to catch me up to speed but you have to watch it yourself, there’s no way to explain it.
Yeah, yeah. It definitely takes off a string of – you know, I hate to bring it up because touching something as sacred as Twin Peaks always feels like a little bit of a dangerous chess move, but – the wild, non-linear nature of something like Twin Peaks definitely applies in this, where every week you’re going, ‘Holy shit, what the hell is going on?’ This raw entertainment is definitely where it sits.
You can’t just catch up a few episodes later because you’ll have no idea what’s happening.
It’s incredibly fast-paced, which is very intentional. The viewing experience reads quite a bit like – well, like an Archie Digest, panel to panel. It also applies very well to the short attention span economy that we’ve built through social media, and I feel like it hits the nail on the head.
So Five Feet Apart, which is what we are here to talk about! How did the role as Will come to be yours? What made you want to go for it?
The casting process is always a little bit tenuous when you receive a script and a director expresses a lot of interest, because — especially for first time directors — you have to put a lot of faith into their vision without having their bible of work with which to feel confident by. And this was a script that was dealing with an illness that is life-threatening, and has claimed a lot of lives and is incredibly sensitive to a lot of people. Really the casting process, or my agreeing to the role, really had a lot to do with my screening of – basically a conversation between Justin and I to make sure that this thing was in the right hands, because if done incorrectly, could be incredibly sensitive and could capitalise upon something that would have done more damage in the long run than something helpful. So it took a little bit of screening, we had a couple of conversations and we kept in contact in a variety of ways. And then it all seemed to fall into place, Justin [Baldoni, the director] had had — at the time, and still does — a really incredible and long history of dealing with cystic fibrosis at a very personal level through the people that he knew, and in terms of fundraising and events and other things like that. He had done a couple little video pieces about the illness, and so he seemed like the most qualified person at the time to do it. And then I agreed and then it was really a process of finding someone who would be just as passionate about the source material to play Stella. Justin had always had Haley in the back of his mind. When we met it was just perfect, I mean Hayley’s just – when you talk to her she is like a ball of energy. She is wild. And so we got along really, really well. It also had this nice dynamic between the characters that we wanted to play, between a manic, obsessive young Haley and a resigned, defeated kind of character that I was playing, where it played this nice duality that we wanted to feed the chemistry of on screen.
(LEFT) Cole wears all clothing COACH 1941, shoes SAINT LAURENT
(RIGHT) Haley wears bra MCQ ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, jacket LOUIS VUITTON, trousers BERLUTI, shoes MOSCHINO
Cole wears all clothing COACH 1941, shoes SAINT LAURENT
Haley wears bra MCQ ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, jacket LOUIS VUITTON, trousers BERLUTI, shoes MOSCHINO
That’s something that really struck me actually, the fact that the two protagonists are two halves of a whole, who are showing different coping mechanisms that might not be the best methods but when they were together, they wanted to help each other. There are so many emotional climaxes in the film but the part that really stayed with me is when Will is away from Stella and loses the nihilistic braggadocio and asks a nurse, ‘Well what if this treatment doesn’t work?’ Did you have a particular scene that you found difficult emotionally?
Yeah, it was actually a scene that I don’t believe made it into the final cut. We shot a lot, but it was a scene at the very end — without spoiling too much, obviously— it was a scene at the very end after the emotional climax of the movie, and it’s a scene with my mother where I’m in the car with her and I fully break down. It’s a weight of something that didn’t work, and the unknowing of what comes next, and the recognition that I have to let all this shit go and move on and never have any sort of permanence, and all of that was really, really heavy.
It’s something heavy that legitimately every person with cystic fibrosis has to reconcile in any small or large amount. A lot of the emotional weight of the movie, at least acting-wise, came from recognising the logical gravity of cystic fibrosis. It is an incredible heavy, heavy illness, and it affects young people. It affects people who are going through, for the first time, feelings of lust and love and experimentation, and growth and coming into oneself and the solidifying of identity whilst simultaneously the encroaching mortality that is so frightening that terrifies all of us. When you juggle it like that it really was kind of a… In other words it was easy to get to the place that you needed to get to.
Did you know much about cystic fibrosis before you started preparing for the role? It’s a condition I was aware of but knew none of the details that were explained in the film like the crucial avoidance of passing bacteria between patients. Did you do much research? Did you speak with the CF community?
When I received the script, at a surface level I started research. I think cystic fibrosis is one of those illnesses that you hear about and that everyone has kind of heard about but doesn’t really know the true nature of. That was one of the goals of the film, to truly bring an awareness to an illness that for some reason doesn’t have a lot of coverage, or at least a lot of public knowledge. Obviously once we started doing the role I did a ton of research, and we had professionals and people who suffer from cystic fibrosis advising us every step of the way. From the specific details of certain treatments, to the most updated forms treatments, to how a person would react psychologically to certain types of treatment, to just every aspect of living with cystic fibrosis was covered to an extent that I believe has not really been covered before in film or television, with the goal of really trying to illuminate what it’s like.
How do you hope it’ll be received by patients who have this illness?
I obviously hope it’s received well. The entertainment industry is one of those weird grey areas where we — the actors and the creative team — will try to put as much precedence on the accuracy of the portrayal as possible. That’s where we get our validation, you know, in other words, the currency of poetry is the acceptance of other poets. And the poets in this instance happen to be the patients of cystic fibrosis. The trailers have received a lot of positive attention from patients, there’s obviously going to be some trepidation, and dipping a toe into the water of feeling like we’re going to represent them correctly. I hope that the patients who watch this movie try to recognise that we have, within our finite set of rules, done the absolute best we could to represent exactly what it’s like. Then there’s also that duality at the end of the day where this is still a movie, and there’s a balance between hyper- accuracy and the nature of storytelling, which is going to exist within any kind of representation.
I think in the grand scheme of how we made the movie, we’ve placed a lot more weight upon accurate representation than the inherent dramatising or romanticising of something, while taking our liberties at specific points. As an actor I wanted to make the movie for the patients, the people who will be watching this perhaps in a hospital bed. That was really my personal goal. I did a ton of research about the nature of the physicality of the illness and how it makes a person possibly look, or how it affects them on a day-to-day basis when it comes to even what many people might consider to be the most common of activities. I think the patients of that community, which is so detail-oriented as a community in general, will be very pleasantly surprised at how much insider knowledge we’ve put into this representation. I really hope that that comes across. If there are spaces where it didn’t, that we can take the brunt of the weight for that. But we had a ton, a ton of professionals who’d worked with cystic fibrosis patients and people who’ve carried the illness with them on set with us making sure that things stayed as accurate as possible.
What was it like to work with Haley for the first time?
Haley and I really got along like two peas in a pod. The casting process is kind of a place where you get lucky. Almost every aspect of a technical production can be screened to make sure that it goes smoothly, except cast relations. It’s the one place you roll the dice. And we got along really, really well. It was one of those things where now we’re all super close friends, and it’s the only thing you can hope for at the end of it. We got really lucky with that, and we were consistently joking on set and having fun, and supporting each other through heavier scenes and making sure that everything stayed protected, and that at least Hayley and I and Justin and all of us were really fighting for certain places that representation needed to make sense, or fighting against places that maybe didn’t seem appropriate, and we were a team and that’s really all that an actor can ask for at the end of it, someone who stands across from you even when it’s not their coverage and inspires you to do the best you can.