Robin Givens Takes on Broadway and 'Chicago'

Actor Robin Givens talks with Ed Gordon about her new role on Broadway as Roxie in the musical Chicago.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES. Robin Givens is used to the spotlight. She first walked into America's living rooms as a bookish high school nerd in the teen TV show, Head of the Class. From there, she went on to other TV and film roles.

In her real life, she became the woman who carried on the fairytale romance with boxer Mike Tyson. The marriage would turn into a nightmare, ending in a very ugly and public divorce. Since then, Givens' personal and professional life has had its ups and downs. She's been in, but mostly out of the Hollywood spotlight over the last decade. The New York-born actress had a couple of failed relationships and another marriage that didn't work.

But she found a new purpose as she devoted most of her energy to raising her two sons. Now, she's back, this time on Broadway as Roxy Hart in the musical Chicago. Givens says she didn't realize how socially significant it was for an African-American to take this role until she met with some fellow actors.

Ms. ROBIN GIVENS (Actress): I didn't realize the importance of that. I mean, literally, I went to A Dancer's Life, and even the black members of that company came up to me going, do you know what this means? Do you know what this, you know. So often, I think that we've sort of made it, and the dream has been realized, and we've overcome, or whatever word you choose to use. And then, this makes me realize we're just sort of still paving the way.

GORDON: It really is difficult, even today. There are no real choices for black actresses on a whole.

Ms. GIVENS: I would say you're right. And what I find now, we sort of get lumped together. I remember sitting in a room auditioning for something, and it was Kim Coles, myself, a bunch of us, and we looked in the room and we said, we have nothing to do with each other. You know? We were so different types, heights. I mean, you would think looking in the room, the ages, weights, you know, you would think one person could never be seen for the next person's role.

But basically, it's says black woman, and everybody comes out. As opposed to where we really--there is so much variety, I think, that we then, in our own pool, can say, you do this, you do this well, da da da, you know. But it's not the same.

GORDON: As I was doing research in one of the bios that's written about you, it says, when most people hear the name Robin Givens, they immediately think of the very public and often controversial marriage and divorce to one-time heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. Do you ever get tired of talking about that? There's so much more in your life as you live it than just that period.

Ms. GIVENS: Yeah. I think that I definitely do get tired of it, but I really do believe you can be better for going through a difficult time. And that's how I feel today. So now, I sort of feel like it's almost my responsibility to talk about it.

GORDON: How often, if at all, had you gone through that process over the years to say, did I make a mistake?

Ms. GIVENS: It's funny, I did a movie--my first child was 12, and I think my second one was nine, 10 years old. But Chris Rock called me up and he said, I've got a great movie. You've got to stop making snack packs. You've got to get back to work. And, you know, we ended, I ended up saying yes and doing Head of State with Chris. And, of course, you have a lot of time on the set, and we were talking quite a bit, and he knew certain decisions I had made and turning down certain things.

I really thought when I was ready, because I believe in my talent, it would be easy. I'm going to go, okay, I'm ready now. You know? And he actually said to me, he said, what did you think you were a white girl? Nobody told you were a black girl? And I loved his saying that. And it was sort of like when somebody says something to you and there's this sort of this epiphany, this ah-ha moment where I go, whoa, yeah, you're right. You know?

GORDON: If you had it to do all over again, would you have gone public? Would you have done the interview on 20/20? Would you have done all of what you did?

GIVENS: Well, it's interesting, because I have two beautiful boys. I've got my 12-year-old, I've got my six-year-old, and I have me. And I have me as I am today. I have them as they are, and I feel really, really, really, really great and blessed and like wow, life is so great. So I said this to Oprah, I basically said, if God said to me, the only way you'll be guaranteed to be the person you are today and to have your children, what you have in your life today, is to choose that exact road. If you choose another road, I'm not going to guarantee what you have today. And if the only way I can have what have today is to take that road, I would take the exact same road, knowing all the pitfalls.

Now, with that said, if God said to me, I guarantee you right here, 2006, in March, you'll have that without having gone through it, I would never go through that, I mean, nor would I wish it on my worst enemy. As much as I loved Michael, as much as I feel the love that I feel for him today, I wouldn't have chosen him for my husband. You know? But with that said, here I am. You know?

GORDON: Yeah. What else can we look forward to in the future for you?

Ms. GIVENS: Well, it's interesting for me right now, because I think for my children, which I know I've kind of talked about quite a bit, there was such safety in my being a mother. Not only did it feel good and there was this great intimacy, and it was healing, but there was also safety in being Buddy and Billy's mom. And I sort of had to continue my healing, and I think, my growing and saying, who am I? Who is Robin separate from being a mother?

So, I think with Chicago sort of coming around, and, you know, now I've gotten all of these scripts, it's sort of me saying it's okay. I have a wonderful talent, I would like to think, and I enjoy doing this. I enjoy acting. And the kids are older now. They don't need the snack packs. So, it's okay if I go back to work.

GORDON: Well, that's good to know. And we're glad to see that you're still enjoying it. And good to have you back out there. Robin Givens, thanks for being with us.

Ms. GIVENS: Of course, thank you very much. Nice talking with you.

GORDON: Robin Givens' role as Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago has recently been extended through April 16. For more, you can go on to our website at npr.org.

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