Remi was born into riches in Nigeria, but following the death of his father and the unjust seizing of his family’s wealth by the Nigerian Government, Remi, his mother, and brother permanently relocated to Bronx, New York in 1987. After years of making regrettable decisions, Remi joined the Navy in 2002 and later joined the Navy SEALs where he specialized in combat medicine and HUMINT (Human Intelligence/tradecraft).
After ending his naval career in 2016, Remi worked in film/tv consulting, directing, writing, and acting, including the 2017 franchise film Transformers: The Last Knight, SEAL Team CBS, the Universal thriller directed by Michael Bay, Ambulance, and the August 2022 Lionsgate blockbuster The Plane. Remi also had a recurring role on Amazon’s TV adaptation of the New York Times Best Seller Terminal List.
Remi wrote and directed The Unexpected, a 32-minute short film based on a true story of uncovering an international organ harvesting ring. As a screenwriter Remi co-wrote the adapted screenplay for Slave Stealers, about the abolitionist, Harriet Jacobs. He also has published an autobiography, Transformed: A Navy SEALs Unlikely Journey From The Throne Of Africa, To The Streets Of The Bronx, To Defying All Odds.
Can you explain a bit about your military background, and the journey that took you there?
I spent 13 years in the military, the majority of time was spent in special operations as a SEAL. I was a medic for the first part of my career, and then when I went to the SEAL teams. I was a special operations medic, and I also specialised in human intelligence.
What was the journey that took you into the military?
I was getting in trouble as a teenager in the Bronx. The Bronx is a rough part of New York City, it’s crime-infested, drug-infested area, the Mafia was still prevalent at the time. It wasn’t the safest place. And I was the product of my environment. I ended up getting into crime as well. And, long story short, I ended up in a situation where my life was threatened, because of a deal that I had conducted that went bad, and that was a big wake-up call to me to get out of the illegal game. I decided to join the military a few months later, but I had two warrants out for my arrest. The recruiter, who was also from the Bronx, took a chance on me, and she fudged the paperwork to sneak me into the navy, and she took me to the judges to help get my records expunged, and that’s how I got into the military.
Since leaving the military, you’ve amassed an interesting CV as a successful actor and writer. What appealed to you about this job?
I do a lot of work in a non-profit space as well. Because I made it out, I’ve always had a passion to help others make it out of whatever their situation is. What I like about this show is that it’s a platform to be able to do that to a wider audience. I travel and I speak at different venues and corporate events and inspirational conferences and churches and youth camps and all this stuff, and that’s good. But the media is where you can have a bigger impact, And seeing how the recruits are able to come on and share their stories and how we, as the DS, are able to help them work through the trauma in their life, and help give them some steps – not help redeem them completely or make them whole, but just begin to give them some steps that can lead towards that, that’s what inspired me to be a part of the show.
It’s an interesting part of the show, how people open up and confront their emotions. Why do you think it has that effect on them?
I think when you are in a very physically, mentally and emotionally challenging place, that’s when it’s easy for you to look within. Case in point, one of the most difficult points in my life was when I was in Kodiak, Alaska, and I was doing survival training. I was miserable – I’m a city boy, I hate the cold, and I’m in Alaska, in survival gear, on my own in the middle of nowhere trying to get from one part of Alaska to another. Through that misery I was able to really reflect on my life. I didn’t even have a cell phone. I just had me, and my trauma and my pain. And in order to block that out I would reflect on my past, and I think that’s the same for the recruits. We’re pulling them out of their comfort zone, so to speak. They’re in a very physically, mentally and emotionally challenging environment. Yes, they have other people around them, but they’re people they don’t really know. And, on top of that, they don’t have their cell phones or iPads or all that stuff, so they’re forced to just sit and reflect. And I think that that’s the key ingredient.
Obviously, the show is all about how difficult the selection process is. You struggled initially to pass selection as a Navy Seal. Can you tell me about that?
Yeah. I’ve gone through almost every part of SEAL training twice. The first time, I made it to Hell - Week, and I almost died. I had pneumonia, SIPE, which is swimming induced pulmonary oedema, and I had rhabdomyolysis – where damaged muscle breaks down. Hell Week starts on a Sunday, so around Tuesday night I ended up passing out. I was taken to the medical bay, where they rewarmed my body and sent me back into training. Then I collapsed and they rushed me to hospital, and I was in the ICU for about a week. So that was my first shot. After I recovered, I started day one of training all over again, and I made it all the way through, completed Hell Week, and made it to the dive phase, and I failed the diving test four times. And that’s when I got kicked out of the training. And then I went back to First Marine Division for a year and a half, and then I went back to SEAL training and made it through.
What can the recruits learn from your story? It’s about never giving up, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s about never giving up, it’s about realising that you are going to have setbacks in life, that’s just reality. I think, with this social media culture, everybody sees other people and what they have, and they assume that they got that easy, or it came fast, and they didn’t face obstacles. But, you know, I think it’s a lesson for the recruits, you’re going to face obstacles on the course, you’re going to face obstacles in life, so what do you do when you face those obstacles, what do you do when you find those deficiencies? Do you quit? Or do you put in the extra hard work in order to overcome your deficiencies so you can reach your goal?
What can we expect from the new series?
It takes place in the desert – it’s a beautiful landscape, absolutely gorgeous. And the most glaring new part of the programme is that two of the DS are American! Myself, former SEAL, and Rudy Reyes, former Force Recon Marine, collaborating with two former SAS and SBS guys. And I think that’s going to be unique, because there’s things that obviously they had been bringing to the table, which has been awesome, but now there are going to be some different things that we’re going to bring to the table, which goes towards switching up the course and making it unique and different.
Did you get any advice from Foxy and Billy about your new role?
Yeah, we definitely talked beforehand. We talked about the dos and the don’ts, and the main thing they said was - just be yourself, and everything else will work itself out.
The relationship between the US and UK special forces is a very special one, isn’t it?
Oh yes, definitely. We’ve been fighting alongside each other for over a hundred years, it’s a very unique and strong partnership, because of our history together. And I think that’s definitely reflected in the show.
What do you think you and Rudy brought to the show? Did you have a different approach to training?
Yeah, I would say what I tried to bring to the table was that shock and awe. Hey, there’s a new sheriff in town. The old rules are out, the new rules are in, and these are my rules, and you guys are gonna pay the man. So I play the role of the hard ass, the one you do not want to cross, because if you do, you’re not gonna get any grace. I took a lot of that from watching my instructors, and seeing how different SEAL instructors play different roles. I tried to play that role, but then, towards the end, as we weeded out those who weren’t strong enough to last, I began to soften a little bit and build them up a little bit, because of how hard I tore them down.
You’re a guy who does lots of volunteer work, and wants to help people in life. How difficult was it for you to assume the role of the nasty guy?
It’s not difficult at all, because I know where my heart is in it. I got hired to do a job, and so I’m there to do that job. Once the job is over, turn the switch, and then do the next job, whatever that needs to be.
What did you think of the standard of the recruits?
I think that everyone that showed up showed up pretty much in shape. I was really pleased by what I saw coming into the course. Everybody had great endurance for the most part, I can’t recall anybody that was so far behind the power curve that we had to pull them, or there were safety issues. I would say, for the most part, they were fit for the course.
Were you able to work out, pretty early on, which ones would do well?
In these type of things, you really can’t tell early on, in my opinion. In SEAL training my class started with 270, and it finished with 29 graduating. When you look at that pool of 270, you could look at someone and say they looked incredibly strong, but you can’t tell what’s in a person’s heart, and that’s the equaliser when it comes to SEAL training. You can’t tell how strong the heart and mind is. It’s that mental grit and fortitude that will get you through, and you can’t tell that by looking at someone.
What did you make of the course the recruits went through? Was it what you’d expected?
It was pretty much what I expected, having watched the previous shows. If I’d never seen an episode, I’d probably have had a different answer, but because I watched the show just before I went out there, it was definitely what I’d expected.
How did you find it being back out in the desert where you’d served?
I’m out in the desert often. I did a movie in 2018 in Dubai for Netflix. I don’t live too far from the desert here in California, so the desert is not something that’s foreign to me.
It’s just as well they didn’t ask you to go to Alaska.
If it was Alaska, I’d definitely have a different answer.
What were your high points of this experience?
The high point, I would say, was seeing the transformation in some of the recruits. Seeing them show up, one person, with their issues that they’d had, whether in the closet or out in the open, and then seeing them on the back end of the course, having really brought their issue to the forefront, and beginning battling that issue, and in return becoming a new person. That, for me, was the highpoint of the show. That moment when you see the light switch flip. They come in one way, we get them in the Mirror Room, we discover what their problem, issue or backstory is, and then we see them beginning to deal with that and leaving somewhat different.
You’ve got such a varied career, you’ve turned your hand to so many different areas of life. How much of your identity is still shaped by your experiences in the military? Is it a case of ‘Once a soldier, always a soldier’?
I would say there are definitely experiences that will stay with me forever. I don’t like to live in the past. I just posted on social media a few days ago that a winner’s mindset is one where you don’t dwell on yesterday’s win. That win is done and over with. What are you going to do today? So, for me, I take the lessons and the principles which I gained in my 13 years the military, which were so many. But at the same time, I like to learn new things and do different things, stuff that even if I was never in the military, I would still be able to do.