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Robin Givens on OWN’s ‘Ambitions,’ TV Roles for Black Women and #MeToo

Robin Givens’ breakout role came in the 1986-91 sitcom “Head of the Class.” Since then, she’s established herself as one of the most prolific actresses on television. That trajectory has continued into this year, with Givens playing a slew of what she calls “badass women” in shows such as “Riverdale” and “The Fix,” including her role as ferocious lawyer Stephanie Carlisle Lancaster in OWN’s “Ambitions.” Givens has also declared herself “ground zero” of the #MeToo movement, having publicly revealed her experience with domestic violence at the hands of former husband and heavyweight champion Mike Tyson back in 1988.

What made you sign on to “Ambitions” while acting in two other projects? 

I was doing “The Fix” and “Riverdale” when I got asked to read for this, and I was like, “No, I’m good. I’m trying to learn lines for ‘The Fix.’” And once I read “Ambitions,” I was like, “Oh, wow, no one can do this better than me.” At face value, Stephanie is incredibly powerful. But what I really wanted to do was create a character that lets you see different layers and different colors and shades and her imperfections, and give her a sense of humor. We can sometimes put black people in boxes. Sometimes you can have, “Oh, that’s an affluent black person; so that person behaves like this.” And I like tearing that up completely.

How has it been juggling so much at once?

I really took some time away with my kids and concentrated on them, and being a mom. It’s interesting to come back to yourself and what you love, and I think a lot of women experience this. When we as women give ourselves to our husbands or our children, and then all of a sudden we’re like, “Whoa, OK, what do I like? And what do I want to do?” And you become your own project again, and focus on yourself. So I’m just loving it. Having had time to step away has helped me, however hectic it is, be balanced.

Do you feel like there are now better roles for black women on TV?

Yes, you see it more. When I was watching “The Fix” on Monday night, there were four different types of black women, of different ages, all in one episode. They had black, Latina — everybody was different shapes and sizes and colors. That says it all that in one episode; you have four black women in one show. How cool is that?

What has changed since you spoke out about your own experience with abuse?

To watch the climate change for certain things has been exhilarating to me. It’s not that certain things are ever acceptable, but at one point, they were easily ignored. You could shift the focus or not believe it, or turn a blind eye, and you can’t do that any longer. So, I can’t tell you how wonderful I think that is.

What do you think needs to keep changing?

I suppose there’s always room for growth. And it would be great if there was just a natural sense of respect [and you didn’t] have to have HR give everybody the rules. It would be nice if it was built into a man’s system of what it means to be a gentleman. But I think we’re headed in the right direction. And it’s just wonderful. I think men think twice about what they will and will not do.

Things You Didn’t Know About Robin Givens

Age: 54 Birthplace: New York City Favorite vacation spot: Strasbourg, France Last show she binged: “The Office” Surprised to be recognized for: “Head of the Class” Cause she most cares about: Domestic violence and all women’s issues

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