Chelsea Thomas on starring as Amber in Spinners

19 October 2023

Chelsea Thomas on starring as Amber in Spinners

Now streaming on Showmax, 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? 

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 a standing ovation from its sold-out South African premiere at Silwerskerm; and was the opening night screening at MIP Africa, generating rave reviews, with Fortress of Solitude proclaiming, “This is South Africa’s Breaking Bad. It’s just that good.” 

Dillon Windvogel, Chelsea Thomas, Stephren Saayman, and Braeden Buys in Spinners
From left: Dillon Windvogel, Chelsea Thomas, Stephren Saayman, and Braeden Buys

If you’ve seen the trailer, you probably have questions about the young woman flexing her muscles while standing on the open door of her car while it spins. We caught up with Chelsea Thomas (Arendsvlei) to ask them for you. 

Watch the interview with Chelsea Thomas on Spinners

Tell us about your character on Spinners? 

I play the role of Amber; she is the best female spinner in the country. She’s Ethan’s rival but she could potentially become his love interest.

Are there many women in spinning?

I grew up in Kraaifontein, and for all my childhood I would go to the pitch on a Sunday. That would be where all the cars gathered to spin. I’ve only ever seen men spin. So when I started the job on Spinners, then only I learned that females are actually dominating the sport now. 

Like your stunt double, Kayla Olifant? 

Oh my goodness! Kayla is absolutely fearless. She’s amazing. She’s definitely one of the best spinners in the country, and she loves winning. I say this all the time: I don’t know how Kayla does it. The things she does feel super reckless but she loves it. You can see the passion in her eyes. You know when you can look into people’s eyes and you can just see a fire burning for something? That’s exactly what it felt like having a conversation with her about spinning. 

Do you relate to Amber and her story?

I won’t say I relate to Amber at all. Funny story: I’m in Spinners but I failed my licence twice and I’m an anxious driver. So for my character to be a spinner? Hello… 

To be in the spinning car as well, that was definitely a highlight for me, that was definitely a first for me. Spinning is the craziest thing that people do, but it’s so much fun.

This is the first time that I get to tap into a role such as this; Amber is definitely something else compared to all the innocent little girls that I used to play, or the 17-year-old high school kids in other series. 

So we are two very different people but I love that we are worlds apart and I’m so out of my comfort zone; it’s been such a humbling, growing experience. As an actress, I’ve learned to always be open to new, to more and I want to keep taking on more of what I’m not used to. I want to be as versatile as I can be.

You’ve worked with Cantona on Arendsvlei. What’s it like working with him again?

Cantona James and Chelsea Thomas in Spinners
Cantona James and Chelsea Thomas

It’s been an absolute joy. He’s one of those actors who holds space for you, who makes you feel seen, who makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. To be able to play alongside Cantona again on Spinners has just been a dream come true, because he’s one of those people that you want to work with over and over and over again.

You grew up in Cape Town. Why is Spinners important to this community? 

Spinning has always been a big part of culture in Cape Town, in the Cape Flats, so they will love seeing these stories finally being told.

There have been a lot of documentaries about spinning but this time there’s a series, and this time the story has heart and it’s being told from the ground up. 

Growing up in Kraaifontein, I know spinning is sometimes seen as something bad. But Spinners shows a different side to it: it shows the passion, it shows the drive, it shows the adrenaline, it shows the joy. It’s so encouraging and inspiring to tap into a different side of spinning, to show that it isn’t all bad. 

You’ve just come back from Spinners’ sold-out premiere in Paris, with another standing ovation. What does this mean to know this will screen on CANAL+ and other international broadcasters? 

This is my first ever international job and my biggest yet so I’m excited for the rest of the world to see what our people are all about. Standing on that stage after the screening and realising the magnitude of the work we had done was absolutely incredible. It felt amazing to know that our work will be displayed on such big platforms. It is truly heartwarming to know that our stories are not just staying here. It will now be seen by even bigger audiences who have no idea what life is like on our side.

About Spinners

Spinners is co-created by producer Joachim Landau and showrunner Benjamin Hoffman of Empreinte Digitale, currently up for the International Emmy for TV Movie/Mini-Series for Infiniti. Spinners is helmed by Jaco Bouwer, director of the 2022 SAFTA Best TV Drama winner 4 Mure and the 2021 SXSW Cinematography winner Gaia, which just won four 2023 SAFTAs, including Best Film and Director. Spinners’ story was developed by and head written by SAFTA and Silwerskerm winners Sean Steinberg and Matthew Jankes. The 16LVPD-rated English/Kaaps/Afrikaans series is co-produced by Locarno, Amiens and FESPACO winner Ramadan Suleman (Zulu Love Letter, Fools) from Natives at Large, Spinners’ local co-production company. DJ Ready D is the music supervisor and also composed tracks for the series. 

STUDIOCANAL is handling international sales. 

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Spinners, coming soon
A sit-down with Cantona James of Spinners