The Sprouses began acting at the age of eight months following a suggestion from their grandmother, Jonine Booth Wright, who was a drama teacher and actress. The twins first appeared in a commercial for diapers, switching on-screen time every few seconds. As with many twins, the two have often played the same role, due to child labor laws in California restricting the amount of time children can be filmed in a day. Casting twins in a single role thus allows more time for the character to be filmed. Beginning at eight months old, the two played a single character, Patrick Kelly, on the ABC series Grace Under Fire.
In 1999, the boys appeared in their first major feature film, Big Daddy, in which they shared the role of a five-year-old boy named Julian who is adopted by Adam Sandler's character, Sonny Koufax. Though the film received mixed reviews, the two were nominated for multiple awards for their role in the movie. However, they did not win any. The same year, the boys also had a minor role in the thriller The Astronaut's Wife. The Sprouses have noted that after Big Daddy's release, they entered a slow period in their careers and were not cast in any major roles for a time. During the early 2000s, the twins appeared in episodes of The Nightmare Room and That '70s Show, as well as in MADtv and portrayed roles in the feature films The Master of Disguise and Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights. Cole began appearing in episodes of the television show Friends, as Ross Geller's son Ben in 2001; this role was not shared with Dylan.
They both appeared in I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Just for Kicks, both of which were family films that received a direct-to-video release. David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews said of their acting in Just for Kicks that the brothers "aren't the worst child actors I've ever seen,... but they certainly leave a lot to be desired." Dylan and Cole were later cast in the Disney Channel original series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, where they portrayed identical twins Zack and Cody Martin, respectively. The series, which debuted in March 2005, became a ratings success. As part of their involvement with Disney, the brothers also became part of the 11-member group, the Disney Channel Circle of Stars, and sang the song "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" along with the members of the circle, for a video that was released as bonus material in the special edition version of the Disney film Cinderella. They also participated in the Disney Channel Games.
The Sprouses played one character, Jeremiah, in the independent film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. The film was produced in 2004 but not given a theatrical release until March 2006, when it played at three theatres in the United States, ultimately grossing $29,000 domestically. Harvey Karten praised their acting, stating that "acting is superlative all around", and Tamara Straus of the San Francisco Chronicle called them "the movie's only saving grace".
In 2007, the two filmed A Modern Twain Story: The Prince and the Pauper. Carrie R. Wheadon of Common Sense Media said the film was a "slow story for Zack and Cody fans only". The Sprouse brothers both had voice roles in the animated film, Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen alongside Brenda Song and Emily Osment. Dylan played the voice of Shasta in Disney's "Snow Buddies." The brothers both starred in the theatrical film, The Kings of Appletown, which is based on the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The film was directed by Bobby Moresco and written by Amanda Moresco. Shot in New Braunfels, Texas, the movie was originally estimated to be released in the winter of 2008. Kings of Appletown had a limited theatrical release on December 12, 2009 and was officially released at the Newport Beach Film Festival in April 2010.
They appeared on the cover of the May 2009 issue People Magazine, in an eighty-page special edition issue devoted to The Suite Life on Deck. The twin brothers began filming another Modern Twain Story film in the summer of 2009. The film was tentatively titled "Sivilized" and was a modern version of Huckleberry Finn. However, in mid-2010, Dylan stated that they would not be doing the movie, in part because they "outgrew" the movie. They became the new face of the children's yogurt, Dannon Danimals, in 2009; their endorsement deal was renewed in 2010. The twin brothers signed an endorsement deal with Nintendo DS in August 2010. As of early to mid-2011, Dylan and Cole are not in any acting projects and are focusing instead on college as well as art and photography, respectively. However, Dylan has stated that they would both like to continue acting while in college. Dylan and Cole are represented by William Morris Endeavor as of 2011.
Dylan Sprouse has stated that the experience of coming to fame after the success of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody is "kind of scary, how fast everything is moving" and that a year prior "none of this was happening, it was just doing Suite Life," and that he couldn't wait for the future. While filming The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, the two received on-set tutoring for three hours each day, and said they were getting "straight A's and honors." In their last year of high school, the brothers both took Advanced Placement classes. Dylan took AP Psychology and AP Spanish, and Cole took AP Psychology and AP Government.
The twins' family has three dogs: Bubba, which belongs to Dylan and Cole; Pinky, who is their father's; and Curry, their stepmother's. Their favorite actor and co-star is Adam Sandler. Dylan has said that Adam is "a role model in acting" and that they learned a lot about comedy from him. In mid-2010, Dylan launched a site for his art called Sprouse Arts, and in mid-2011, Cole launched a site for his photography called Cole Sprouse Photography.
In 2010, the twin brothers were both accepted to New York University. They had initial plans to attend the university in the fall of 2010; however, they deferred for one year. Dylan initially planned on majoring in fine/studio arts and minoring in economics while Cole planned on majoring in film and television production and minoring in drama. Instead, they both enrolled in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, which allows students to plan their own curriculum. Cole is focusing his curriculum on the humanities and archaeology while Dylan is focusing on video game design. In 2011, Dylan was elected president of the Third Avenue North residence hall at NYU.