Selects: Scene 2-20 - D52 EXTERIOR: Abandoned Factory (Spinning); Ethan (CANTONA JAMES) tells Shane (DILLION WINDVOGEL) why Robin (SHANNON SOLOMONS) isn't a good driver, the security guard catches Trevor (BRAEDEN BUYS).

Premiering on Showmax on 8 November 2023, Spinners follows Ethan (Cantona James), a 17-year-old driver working for a gang on the Cape Flats. Needing to support his younger brother but increasingly disgusted by gang life, Ethan discovers a possible way out via spinning, an extreme motorsport where he can put his driving skills to better use. With a gang war looming, can he turn his life around fast enough? 

A co-production between Showmax and CANAL+, Spinners became the first African series selected in competition at Canneseries; won three awards at Dakar Series, including Best TV Series; received standing ovations in Paris and from its sold-out South African premiere at Silwerskerm; and was the opening night screening at MIP Africa, generating rave reviews. Variety calls it “Gripping… Part gangster series, part coming-of-age sports drama.” 

We caught up with actor Dillon Windvogel to find out more.   

How would you describe Spinners?

Ethan is stuck between the thug life, the reasons why he had to lean that way, and spinning, as an escape from that life. Spinning is this door that shows this light and limelight away from all of that. 

Car culture is integral to coloured culture. How do you think Spinners honours that?

Spinning is more than a sport; it’s a lifestyle. So Spinners is a love letter to coloured culture. The show truly encapsulates all that spinning is. I was blessed with the opportunity and the privilege to see spinning culture up close, and it’s amazing. It’s mind-blowing. They definitely honour that, with some of the great spinners from our culture featured in the show. 

Tell us about your character, Shane. 

Shane is like a sunflower among thorns. Even though he’s been surrounded by all of the crime and this world that is similar to a battlefield, he still stays loyal. He is very close to his friends. He prioritises them above all, and he’ll go to extreme lengths to save them or help them. 

When he first meets Ethan, there’s that instant sense of, ‘This guy needs help.’ And, ‘How can I be that help for him?’ We watch the journey as he slowly allows Ethan into his life. He wants Ethan to take his hand, but he’s wary. 

So I think Shane is mature in that regard – being raised in that area has made him that way – but he stays true to his core values, which are family and loyalty.

What attracted you to Spinners?

The story. It’s so gritty. It reminded me of a fusion of Vikings and Game of Thrones in terms of the characters. It also reminded me of Noem My Skollie, the roughness of it. It’s very raw. It’s not sugar-coated, which is what I love. The story has a lot to do with trauma and pain and how each character overcomes it and makes it through this life that has been handed to them.

How is Shane different to characters you’ve played before, like Ashwin in danZ!, Wade in Blood & Water and Vernon in Arendsvlei

What makes Shane different is his maturity. I feel like, most likely at the age of 12 or 13, he had to fend for himself. There was that point of responsibility and independence that hit him early. So even with how he carries himself, there’s that emotional maturity. And that makes him completely different to the rest of the characters I’ve played. 

It’s also the first time I was able to play a character in my mother tongue. And I don’t mean suiwer Afrikaans. I don’t mean English. I mean ‘Mengels’. We were privileged to throw in English when it felt like English and throw in Afrikaans when it felt like Afrikaans. And that was definitely lovely.

What kind of research did you do for the role?

Shane is a mechanic so the majority of my research was done stalking my uncle, who’s a mechanic. Seeing what things to do on a car and then seeing how I would verbally explain what I’m doing or what I see him doing. And then I also spent time trying to understand cars and understand how they can move the way they move.

Even before we started shooting, we got to learn how to drive a car that spins, which is completely different to a normal car. Luckily, I didn’t have my licence then, so it didn’t mess me up, which is good, because it’s a bit confusing.

What was it like working with the rest of the cast?

Working with them is like being a naughty child. Cantona and I had met before but I met all my character’s best friends at the script reading, and from then until the end of shooting, we were like five small children at the back of a class and just having a ball of time. It was an experience that I’ll definitely never forget.

It was also lovely for me to experience watching them perform. Just seeing the limits that they reach and seeing how truthfully and beautifully they portray their roles made me feel like I needed to bring my all as well. So we definitely pushed each other. For me, that’s always a nice thing. 

I never felt like I was working. Even to this day, we still link up outside of work.

Why do you think Spinners is unique in how it deals with gangsterism?

What makes it unique is how gangsterism is portrayed, especially by Elton Landrew and Brendon Daniels. These gangsters have a heart yet they’re not afraid to ignore what the heart says. And I think that’s what makes it different from all the other gangster movies, where we assume they’re shooting, and they don’t care, it’s just gunshots. Whereas in Spinners, we see how they care. And I think they beautifully portrayed those moments to show heart and the struggle to leave the heart behind and not listen to the heart. They are rough, but they are still human, with a certain understanding of Ethan and his circumstances.

How do you feel that coloured cultures have developed on screen?

I think the world now views coloured people differently. Before there was always this notion that a coloured actor would be more fit to play a skollie or a person who lives on the street, or someone from a struggling family, where the husband or the wife is in debt, or they are drunks.

But now, with the current depictions, we have shown there are different sides to coloured people. We are not all rough. We don’t even all speak the same. We have different accents. We have different ways of using words. We come from different backgrounds. We come from different homes.

In the last couple of years, a change has happened for script writing, for production companies, for actors. You see them in the roles that make sense to what the truth actually is. That has definitely been a privilege to see and a privilege to be a part of, having each race be portrayed in the way that it should be.

Why do you think people should watch Spinners?

It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating. It’s rough. 

Any person who likes a high-speed action thriller, anyone who loves comedy, anyone who wants a touch of romance, would enjoy the show. 

And if you’re a huge fan of Cantona James, like I am, this is definitely the show to watch.

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