“It was interesting to play a bad guy for a change.” Elton Landrew on Spinners

Spinners, the first African series selected in competition at Canneseries, is now streaming on Showmax, with new episodes on Wednesdays until 27 December 2023. 

A co-production between Showmax and CANAL+, Spinners follows Ethan, 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? 

Spinners won three awards at Dakar Series, including Best TV Series; received standing ovations in Cannes, Paris and at Silwerskerm in Cape Town; and was the opening night screening at MIP Africa, generating rave reviews. 

Much of the praise is for the performances, especially for Cantona James as Ethan and Elton Landrew as Damien. As Fortress of Solitude says, “Keep an eye out for Elton Landrew’s Damien, the gangster with a soft side. The word on the street is that this role is set to skyrocket him to stardom, snagging awards left, right, and centre. And it’s easy to see why. Landrew steals every scene he is in.”

Since originating the role of young Kat on stage in Kat and the Kings by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, Elton has had prominent roles in the likes of Arendsvlei, Suidooster, Sara se Geheim, and Recipes for Love and Murder

In Spinners, he plays Damien, who, in addition to being a husband and a father, is also the leader of one of the Cape Flats’ notorious gangs. Caryn Welby-Solomon caught up with Elton to find out more. 

How would you describe Spinners?

Spinners is such a beautiful exposė of a culture that is very big in South Africa and internationally but not as famous as many other sports. 

Some have compared it to Breaking Bad, but for me it reminds me more of Need For Speed or The Fast and the Furious. 

Were you into spinning before the series?

I didn’t really know anything about it and I had never been to a spinning event before. Acting is great like that: we are exposed to opportunities on sets that we might not have been able to experience in real life, like being introduced to spinning culture. 

Tell us about your character Damien?

Well, Damien is a very bad guy; I’m basically the villain in the entire series. It was interesting to play a bad guy for a change.

I was surprised to get this role because I’m playing opposite D.J. Mouton [who plays Tony] and Brendon Daniels [who plays Hercules], who are fantastic actors. I thought I was going to be one of their sidekicks but ended up being the top boss. 

I was very fortunate to know Ricardo Arendse [the translator] and Jaco Bouwer [the director] and to have worked with them before, so they knew my skills as an artist and they thought I would be fit to play the character of Damien, with all his layers.

Yes, Damien is very, very different from Piet on Recipes for Love and Murder. But not so different from your role on Arendsvlei?

Yes, I played a character called Steve in Arendsvlei, and it felt similar to Damien. That character had a big impact on the Afrikaans viewing audience; people still stop me on the street because of that character. 

How did Spinners come about?

The amazing story behind Spinners is that Benjamin [Hoffman] and Joachim [Landau], the French producers of the show, came to South Africa to make a documentary about the culture and their research took them to all the competitions and events and they started connecting with people. The stories they were told influenced them to create the series; I think that’s what makes it so powerful. 

Why did you want to be part of Spinners?

To me, it was most important to showcase the coloured community and the backdrop of the Cape Flats and the reality of where these people come from. Because gangsterism in Cape Town is such a huge part of our culture and our heritage, it’s difficult playing these parts and wanting to send out a good message but I hope that that will come across. These characters do exist in Cape Town and so many young people, like Ethan, get trapped in these situations they can’t really escape. 

Why should people watch Spinners?

There’s definitely an edge to Spinners, which is so in line with young people and this whole spinning culture. I think it’s going to blow up.  

And then we have these wonderful young actors like Cantona James, who you can see have great futures ahead of them. Spinners is definitely going to be a boost for everyone that was involved in making it. 

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