One of Mzansi’s hottest new actors, Cantona James is revved up for roles with positive representation

Cantona James as Ethan in “Spinners”. Picture: Supplied

Cantona James as Ethan in “Spinners”. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 12, 2024


Cantona James has become one of Mzansi’s hottest new actors since his breakthrough role in Showmax’s “Spinners”, which was released towards the end of last year.

If you have seen the 25-year-old actor’s performance in the series, you will agree that the high praise he has received is merited.

Cast as Ethan, who, at 17, works as a driver for local gang leader Damien to take care of his younger brother (played by Jihaad Otto), his tragic life story in the Cape Flats is only to be expected as the community suffers from many social ills relating to poverty, gang violence and drug abuse.

With a dead father and a drug-addict mother, who has abandoned them, Ethan is forced to do what he has to, to ensure they have a roof over their head and food on the table.

Cantona James as Ethan in “Spinners”. Picture: Supplied

Desperate circumstances aside, Ethan yearns for a fresh start for his brother and himself. And when he stumbles upon the world of spinning, the odds of him realising his dream turn in his favour.

Critics and streamers alike will agree that James is a marvel to watch in the show. It’s truly hard to believe that he’s relatively new to acting. He juggles the conflicts of his character with commendable gravitas.

Just as the industry has started taking stock of his bankability as an actor, he followed “Spinners” up with “Trompoppie”, where he, once again, delivers a flawless performance.

Cast as Tomas du Preez, a star athlete and the most popular guy at the fancy-pants Deacon College, he finds himself framed for the murder of his girlfriend Zanne.

His character, who has anger management issues, grapples with the teen struggles of cancel culture as he is trolled on social media.

Again, I was blown away by his talent. As such, I reached out for an interview, which he agreed to.

The actor, who dropped out of his studies at Stellenbosch University, after he landed a major role, bagged the 2020 Fleur du Cap prize for Most Promising Student.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he bagged a few TV awards for his recent roles. After all, he did score a Best Newcomer nomination at the Royalty Soapie Awards in 2020.

Despite it being a crazy busy week for him, he was hearteningly affable and down to earth during our chat.

At the outset, he credited kykNET & kie’s telenovela, “Arendsvlei”, where he was cast as Daniel Lafras, for introducing him to viewers.

He said: “Well, because of the big following of the show that I’m on, ‘Arendsvlei’, has in the community, I already had a sense of belonging with audience members.

“But after ‘Spinners’, it came to a point where I was no longer seen as a character but as an actor and that is something one can’t buy.

“From ‘Spinners’ to ‘Trompoppies’, that recognition has happened a lot more. People can see me portray different characters on two shows, and at the same time, on Showmax.

“It allows people to learn about the skill it takes to portray characters. It feels good to hear my name and not my characters’.”

On landing the plum role in “Spinners”, he explained: “So I’ve been on ‘Arendsvlei’ since 2019. It created a conversation from which I could build a strong career. ‘Spinners’ was actually, I believe, a manifested show that came along.

“Before ‘Spinners’, there was a time when, the demographics in shows, I didn’t appreciate it, so I didn’t audition for a lot of shows I got the brief for.”

He continued: “I didn’t feel the story was motivated enough. When I got ‘Spinners’, I instantly knew that was something I wanted to grab with both hands. When I got the audition, I remember I gave blood, sweat and tears in that audition and I knew that this would be my role.”

James added: “We want to show the world that we don’t only have Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise but we have Cantona James as well.”

With “Trompoppie”, James was excited about the project because it was helmed by Etienne Fourie.

Cantona James as Tomas du Preez in Trompoppie. Picture: Supplied

“Well, I’ve seen a lot of his work and that already was a bonus for me when I saw the brief. The nice thing about this character is that he is light even though the world of ‘Trompoppie’ isn’t as light.

“Also, it showed the LGBTQ+ community that my character is in. I wanted to be in the genre that delves into this.”

“Also, with this being a horror/ thriller for youngsters, I wanted to be a part of something like this. There are so many brown people wrongfully accused. It was important to responsibly represent that narrative,” he said.

In the series, with the remaining episodes dropping on the platform soon, his character Tomas du Preez grapples with a maelstrom of hate.

He added: “To utilise Gen Zs and millennials to portray that to the audience is a beautiful thing. We hear of people losing their lives because they are not able to communicate.

“I feel the viewers can relate to the characters. They can see themselves in every character, good or bad.”

As for what’s next for the actor, he admitted: “I’ve had a plan in place. I’ve always planned how I wanted to see my career go. I always planned on starting with a telenovela so people could get to know me and then after that a series and then a film.

“If you can do eight episodes, 50 minutes long, you can definitely lead a 90-minute film.

“I am selective with the stuff I do because representation is important. I don’t want to be a part of television perpetuating an idea of our people. I don’t want to be that character that will either be seen as a laughing stock or an unmotivated gangster.

“I don’t want to disappoint my people. I want my work to speak for who I am.”

∎ “Spinners” and “Trompoppie” are streaming on Showmax.