Natse Jemide's Never Far From Home
Whether it's modeling, making music or acting in his very first TV series, Nigeria's rising star says he's most comfortable sharing his creativity with the world.
As the forest green jackets of the fictional Wilmer Academy filled the screen towards the end of the first episode of Netflix’s Nigerian young adult series, Far From Home, audiences were introduced to a slate of different characters from a variety of backgrounds. One of them -- the cool kid Reggie, played by Natse Jemide -- soon became a name to remember.
From the very first episode of the show, when the camera revealed a tall frame sneaking up playfully behind two other characters, spotting a full head of twists, his words inflected with a posh British accent, that was it for 24-year-old Jemide. It was the beginning of a public reception that brought about TikToks, fan cams, tweets and a stan account called Reggie’s Wives Association.
During all that, you could find Jemide soaking it all in, responding to almost every tweet about him and reposting every post on his Instagram stories. We also began to discover other parts of him: he’s a model and has walked for a couple of fashion shows; he makes music, and he is also the CEO of Wintar Studio – a home for Lagos creatives.
It was like he was prepared for the moment, made for it, even. A fact that he confirmed to OkayAfrica during an hour-long conversation that spanned his growing up, his decision to leave law school, the way he expresses himself using different outlets, and the correct pronunciation of his name – Na-shay, not Nat-say.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Far From Home explores young adult stories that Nollywood doesn’t always venture into. Doing this show, did you bear any similarities to your character and did the show give you any insight into the many lives of Nigerian youths?
First, I think Far From Home is culturally significant and its rawness is what has made the reception great. Our conservative values in Nigeria have kind of limited us on an artistic level so I’m happy Netflix and Inkblot [the production company] were willing to tell these stories. We saw drugs, violence, emotional conflict and the struggles of growing up. Playing the character allowed me to infuse some of my personal experiences. I captained my football team when I was younger and even took martial arts, just like Reggie.
There was a tweet from your dad when the show came out congratulating you on your success. He talked about you being a lawyer and how proud he is of you -- was there a journey to him accepting this path you’re on?
I’ve been involved in a lot of things outside of the law space for a long time now, and, despite my father’s lack of understanding, he was always willing to say, “I trust you.” That changed my life because I started moving with more surety because I knew my dad had my back. When I was shooting Far From Home, I was about to start law school and they asked me to cut my hair. I tried explaining to them but to no avail so I just decided to let it go. My father understood, despite our family having a legacy of lawyers, and having his support at that time meant a lot.
Growing up, were there any peculiarities that inspired this path you’re on?
I grew up with a wide range of experiences and each of them inspired something new in me. Coupled with the fact that I want to leave a legacy here, it’s made me open to a lot of things. Growing up, I was pretty confident but I had my awkward phase; I had stage fright and I hated taking pictures. My mum played a huge role in encouraging me because she constantly talked about how great we were, so that made me feel like I could do anything. I took extra science classes, played rugby, did track and field, and even took Spanish lessons, and it never felt like I was under any pressure. Also, moving from Port Harcourt to Lagos where I attended a French school, and then to boarding school in the UK made me ready to take up whatever challenge came my way.
A lot of artists that pursue multiple passions tend to still get tied to one thing. Is that something that you think of?
I think about it but I don’t think it bothers me. I understand that branding makes you sell one product more easily and categorize yourself neatly but doing that is me kind of losing myself. All these things are ways of expressing myself and I can’t just turn them off. For example, I’m not making music because of commercial success, it’s something I’ve done since I was twelve. I consider myself a storyteller first so it doesn’t matter the medium -- fashion, film, music, or design -- I am always going to tell the stories I resonate with. Ultimately, people can feel when something isn’t authentic and I trust they will understand that about me.
On the music, you teased a song on an Instagram reel you recently posted. Can we expect more on this?
Yeah, I have about ten songs ready but still need mixing and mastering. But I’m happy with them. Over the next few months, I’ll release at least two tracks, and hopefully drop a tape before summer is done. I’m just trying to put the right structures in place for my music to reach the right audience.
About the modeling scene, we’ve had an uptick in the number of Nigerians walking international shows. How do you think that has helped Nigeria’s influence in that space?
I think it has just helped build connections between different sectors in the fashion world. Being a model from Nigeria is almost like being an ambassador because people ask about the fashion scene here and want to explore it. Gucci and Prada are ultimately not doing everything for us; it’s cool we walk their shows but what’s important is us putting other local talents on the global stage.