The OWN network has turned up the heat on Tuesday nights. And if you watched the premiere of the Will Packer produced series Ambitions, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Viewers were catapulted into this deliciously messy drama that follows the lives of five families who are all trying to navigate the waters of dominance, disloyalty, dishonesty, and most of all: debauchery. The cast is full of amazing actors who do more than a good job bringing their characters to life -- I'm talking Essence Atkins, Brian J. White, Kendrick Cross, Brely Evans and the lead lady of the pack: Robin Givens.
Owning the role of Stephanie Carlisle Lancaster, wife to Atlanta Mayor Evan Lancaster and successful lawyer at her family's firm, the 54-year-old proves once again why she's able to maintain relevance in an industry of come-and-goers. She's poised, she's sexy, and she's deliberate.
Givens knows exactly how to reel you in and let you go with just enough so that you'll keep coming back for more. But perhaps what's more impressive than what she does on-screen, is the woman she's become off-screen.
As we chat over the phone on a midweek afternoon, it becomes clear that Givens is a woman who has both lived and learned a lot. She's a woman who, at this point in life, is very clear on who she is, where she's going, and who she hopes to be. Her light and reflective disposition radiates easily as she speaks and it lets me know that, more than anything, Robin Givens is an unstoppable, unshakable, and inspiring force.
The renowned actress spoke candidly with us about Ambitions, faith, and if she'll ever get married again. Here's what she had to say.
xoNecole: We’ve seen you play a myriad of roles onscreen: the vixen, the sex symbol, the tough girl who takes no stuff. Are there are any parallels between you and the characters you portray?
Robin Givens: Well, I think I usually play smart women, you know they're very well-educated. In some ways I'm a little bit behind my character, but in others, I'm ahead of them. I think I'm more mature and maybe more evolved in life than Stephanie Lancaster in some ways. I feel that in some respects though, for a lot of characters that I played--they had more confidence than I had. Stephanie is shrewd; she can maneuver things which personally I'm terrible at. Some parts of her, I really admire because I wouldn't even know how to do what she does.
"Stephanie is shrewd; she can maneuver things which personally I'm terrible at. Some parts of her, I really admire because I wouldn't even know how to do what she does."
In a recent interview, you talked about how Stephanie was first written in the script. You described her as an “Ice Queen.” What originally drew you to play her character?
The writing was just SO good, and I thought I could shade her in and color her a little bit differently than a lot of people would. I just knew I thought of her in a certain way and I wanted to give her a sense of humor. So I think that was a little bit different than what Jamey [Giddens, creator] had in mind initially.
While watching the first episode of ‘Ambitions’, viewers almost get a sense that Stephanie and her husband Evan almost hate each other. That they’re only married for convenience, can you give us a little insight into their relationship?
I think initially it was convenient, and I think she thinks she's ambitious. She sees that Evan can be the mayor of Atlanta and [might] go on to become governor of Georgia. But as time goes on, you begin to see that there is a little bit more [of] something there. They really are a power couple. Each of them sees themselves in each other and they're kind of bonded in a way. Later on, we'll get to see that there's a little more love in there.
Robin Givens as Stephanie Carlisle starring alongside Brian J. White as Evan Lancaster in 'Ambitions'
"They really are a power couple. Each of them sees themselves in each other and they're kind of bonded in a way."
You mentioned power couple just now, so I’m curious. If you could compare their relationship to one in the public eye currently, whose would it be and why? We saw on the ‘All-Access’ show, your costar Brian J. White mentioned Bill and Hillary [Clinton or] Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
I mean, I don't know! I work with Brian so I know how he feels personally about this (laughs). He was actually a big part in our 'Stephanie and Evan', in terms of the closeness of their relationship. I think I can pull Bill and Hillary. I don't know much about their personal relationship but certainly they are very bonded. I think they have a mutual respect for one another. From the outside looking in, I think he admires her [and] respects her. And Evan feels that way about Stephanie; the respect and admiration is mutual. So, when we [hear] his character say, "I'm never going to leave my wife"-- it's true. Evan is never going to leave her. There is no woman like his wife… I think she challenges him.
Has Stephanie and Evans's relationship altered the way you view marriage in any way?
No, no. I don't take it that seriously. I don't think I would want their marriage, I don't think anyone would want their marriage! So definitely don't try this at home. To the people watching: don't push up on your wife and don't pull a gun on your husband (laughs).
Is marriage something you’re open to again?
Of course, of course yes--I would absolutely love it! I have two boys, I adopted my first child and the other one I had with a wonderful man. He remarried but we love each other dearly and I love his wife. So we are very much a blended family, but absolutely. I would love that, especially now that I'm an empty nester. I'm working again, I'm a little older. So maybe I can focus in on that as well.
Maybe you can, yes. We are all rooting for you.
Maybe I can have my agent hook me up, but hey if you know anybody let me know!
I surely will, I’ll be your Wingwoman.
There you go, yes! We have to stick together, we have to (laughs).
So at this stage in your life, empty nester-slash-working woman: how would you like a man to court you?
Well, I like being treated like a lady. I really need someone who just gets me, you know? I'm so different from any of my characters. I need someone who understands me. Someone who thinks I'm cute apart from all of this, acting and getting dressed up… I'm looking for peace because I like that. Laughter, friendship in a very simple way. I like to enjoy life with simplicity, so I try to keep things that way. And someone who is patient, likes dating me, and who can make me laugh.
You mentioned your sons a little bit ago, do you find that motherhood affects the way you go about dating?
I think so. I tried to keep dating very separate from them. But now that they're older, I started talking about dating when my eldest son started dating. And it's funny because, there was this one time when we were out somewhere and he goes, "Come on Mom, it's time for you to start dating again, you have to get a guy and stop concentrating on us." And it's like, why is my child verbally reprimanding me? (laughs) I was mad but I was cracking up at the same time.
But you know, the older they get, the more freeing you get. In the sense of you don't have to be home at a certain time and things like that. So, now that I have an empty nest, I think with that comes a courage--not just for dating but for acting as well. For pursuing your dreams and concentrating on yourself and making yourself your project instead of your children--that takes courage.
Behind the scenes of 'Ambitions' with Robin Givens as Stephanie Carlisle Lancaster
"Now that I have an empty nest, I think with that comes a courage--not just for dating but for acting as well. For pursuing your dreams and concentrating on yourself and making yourself your project instead of your children."
I want to switch gears a bit and talk about your advocacy against domestic violence. You’ve been a voice for the bulk of your career, having experienced it in your own life at a point.
And there’s a scene in episode one where after Evan pushes Stephanie, she decides to turn it up several notches and pulls out a gun. Was there a sense of empowerment of “fighting back”?
As much as I am an advocate for domestic violence, I'm really just an advocate for women. I'm a woman, I'm a black woman and I really believe we all have more in common than we think. Certainly our circumstances are different but I think these are all women's issues. And I like to do my part in empowering women especially with being a single mom. I do like how Stephanie gives him no energy whatsoever and then like you said, she takes it up a notch. I don't really connect it to myself so much, I don't do that.
I allow Stephanie to live in me. I bring her to life without burdening her with my history and my circumstances. That being said, I think everything I've gone through in my life--the good, bad and the ugly--helps give me a perspective. It gives me a well to draw from. It's in me. So I can't deny that I put some things into it, but I don't want her to carry around Robin on her back. She's got enough issues to deal with on her own.
Robin Givens as Stephanie Carlisle starring alongside Brian J. White as Evan Lancaster in 'Ambitions'
"I allow Stephanie to live in me. I bring her to life without burdening her with my history and my circumstances. That being said, I think everything I've gone through in my life--the good, bad and the ugly--helps give me a perspective. It gives me a well to draw from."
You are definitely right about that. But on a personal note, what would you say is the biggest difference between the Robin at the beginning or your career and the Robin you are currently?
I'm grown up--I'm a grown up now! I started this really, really young; I think I've had my SAG-Aftra card probably 35 years now or something like that. I've grown and the world kind of watched me grow up. Now I'm a grown woman and I like being a grown up. So I think that's probably the biggest difference. I was a baby in a sense, a kid initially. But with being grown and being more mature, I have a perspective and respect for things and opportunities.
There were so many things I said "no" to that the Adult Robin would look back on and go, "Now why did you say 'no' to that? Are you crazy, you think opportunities just come as you'd like them?" (laughs) So I think having the perspective of an adult--I really like that and it makes me a better actor, you know what I mean? I feel like I can bring Stephanie to life knowing that I want her to be however strong she seems to people, but that she has vulnerabilities. And that was important for me to show. She has fears. And as an adult now, I know how to shade her in a different way.
Before you go, I want to touch on your faith. I know that’s very important to you, having been vocal about how it anchored you in a sense and got you through some of your lowest moments...
So I want to ask you about a quote you once said. It reads: “It is by experiencing God that we get to know Him…and it is in knowing God, truly knowing God, that we get to know ourselves.” When you hear that, what does this statement mean to you?
You know, my relationship with God is as I call it, is a relationship with "the only Father I've known." It's been something that's grounded me, sustained me, and saved me. It's meant everything to me. It's how I'm able to be here, be sane and be whole. And hopefully, perfectly broken in a way that can inspire others. He has given purpose to this sort of, beautiful mess. You know, I grew up Catholic and there was a certain ritual that we would go through. And I think often times, we go through these rituals and we--or I didn't really get to know God-- or what it meant to really fall onto your knees [in prayer] until I could only fall on my knees and prayer. So that relationship changed for me and went beyond being a ritual to being a real relationship and that has meant the world to me.
"My relationship with God is a relationship with 'the only Father I've known.' It's been something that's grounded me, sustained me, and saved me. It's meant everything to me."
For more of Robin, follow her on Instagram. And catch new episodes of Ambitions every Tuesday night at 10/9c, only on OWN.
*Some answers have been condensed and edited for clarity. Featured image by Robin Givens/Instagram.