Cape Flats boy makes acting debut in lead role in ‘Spinners’ series

Jihaad Otto and Cantona James. Picture: Supplied

Jihaad Otto and Cantona James. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 8, 2023


Cape Town - Little Jihaad Otto from Heideveld is the tiny firecracker who plays Byron Williams in the new Showmax series “Spinners”.

The series, which airs for the first time today (November 8) also marks Jihaad’s acting debut. The petite boy’s mom, Lameesha Otto, said he was going to be an extra on the series but won the hearts of producers and landed a bigger role than he expected.

In the action-packed series, Ethan (Cantona James), is a 17-year-old boy who comes from a crime- and poverty-stricken community on the Cape Flats called Lavender Hill.

Needing to support his younger brother but increasingly fed up with gang life, Ethan discovers a possible way out via spinning, an extreme motorsport where he can put his driving skills to better use.

The brothers live in a tiny flat as their drug-addict single mother abandoned them. But they constantly live in fear as Ethan skips school to run with the gang to earn enough to support them.

Byron is Ethan’s 7-year-old brother. They lost their father at a young age, and their mother struggles with addiction and is frequently absent. Ethan is his brother’s protector, and Byron is Ethan’s whole world.

Jihaad Otto with Dann-Jacques Mouton on set. Picture: Supplied

The Grade 3 Welcome Primary School pupil, who has no idea how much his role will impact the film, is humble as he plays off the compliments from friends and family.

His mom explained: “I sent his pictures and introduction tape to a casting agency which is run by Nadine George, his agent, who sent it off to the production company. They loved his video, asked to see him for an audition of a small role (a flashback scene) where he’d play the role of little Ethan, but instead they offered him a bigger role, the role of Byron, a lead actor.”

Jihaad Otto with dad Riyaad, mom Lameesha and his sister Nurah. Picture: Supplied

Lameesha added: “We never expected it to come to this and Jihaad has no acting experience, no experience of being in front of the camera and hasn’t performed in front of any crowds before, not even a school concert, so it’s really amazing to see how he has bloomed in this film.”

Jihaad, who spent 28 days on set, said: “I enjoyed every minute of filming ‘Spinners’. I learnt so much from everyone, I met a lot of people I only saw on TV. I always enjoyed filming with my Boeta Cantona.”

Lameesha added: “His friends cannot believe they’ll soon have a friend on TV, his school is so excited and has been very supportive. He is excited about the road ahead, but I don’t think he realises how big of a deal this is though. He’s very humble and when family and friends make a hype about the series he laughs and brushes it off.”

Jihaad is the eldest of three kids and has ambition of one day becoming an actor, scientist or footballer.

Jihaad Otto outside his own trailer with David Isaacs. Picture: Supplied

While leading a busy life during filming, Jihaad also managed to land in the fifth spot in his class for academics and juggling sports at school.

Show-runner Benjamin Hoffman said: “When we were looking for a Byron we saw a lot of kids with acting training. Some of them were really good and skilled. Then came Jihaad with no training, no experience. But we immediately saw how smart and sensitive he was. That was immediately obvious that it would be him.

“On set he was so involved, always listening to every comment or notes and did an exceptional job considering it was his first time ever in front of a camera. He was everybody’s favourite. The other actors, especially Cantona James, took great care of him.

“I witnessed it the whole time and I think an actor is born on this shooting.”

Director Jaco Bouwer said: “Jihaad is remarkable as Byron, more than holding his own against some of South Africa’s best actors. You’d never think it’s his TV series debut; he’s a real find and we look forward to seeing what he does next.”