TORONTO – Five years after publishing an autobiography that details her family’s domestic violence struggles and her tumultuous year-long marriage to boxer Mike Tyson, actress Robin Givens feels putting her life out there was a “very healing experience.”
“I think it did give me some clarity with my life,” Givens, 47, said in an interview in Toronto, where she’s starring in the play “Deranged” that runs at the Elgin Theatre on Friday and Saturday.
“I think that a big part of who you are is because of the family that you’re born into, so your history sort of begins, or the cross that you bear sort of even begins before you’re here.”
“I think time … has given me a sense of, ‘Let me get back to who I am or who I’m supposed to be and have the courage to deal with my life,'” added the New York native, who rose to fame in the ’80s on series including “Head of the Class,” “The Cosby Show” and “Diff’rent Strokes.”
Givens said some passionate female readers of “Grace Will Lead Me Home” have approached her to thank her for writing it and to tell her it’s helped them get through difficult times.
“And beat on my car window in Lexington, Kentucky, outside of a tennis tournament, and follow me in the bathroom at the airport,” she noted with a laugh while lounging on a hotel-lobby couch in a white pantsuit.
“I think a lot of people have very similar stories and I think this sort of thing where you’re talking to an interviewer in front of a camera, the part of it that I enjoy is that sense of giving other people a voice or letting them know that they’re not alone.”
“Deranged” stars Givens as a seemingly sweet nanny who tries to steal the affections of a young mother’s husband and children.
Playwrights Angela Barrow-Dunlap and Vanessa Lynn created the comical thriller that’s described as “a contemporary take on ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.'”
Givens admitted she’s also had some bad experiences with babysitters for her two sons, now 18 and 12.
“I’ve had one … steal every piece of video equipment in my house, I’ve had one (that was) the hot babe,” said Givens, whose recent TV credits include “Suburgatory.”
“Deranged” co-stars include Grammy-nominated R&B singer Keith Washington and actor Carl Anthony Payne II, who played Theo’s best friend Cockroach on “The Cosby Show” and simpleton Cole Brown on “Martin.”
Payne said his character, Oscar, is the comic relief of the show and jokes that “it’s a stretch” for him to take on such a role.
Givens and Payne have co-starred in multiple projects, including the play “Men, Money and Gold Diggers.”
Although they were both on “The Cosby Show,” they didn’t actually meet until years later when they were at the party of a mutual friend.
“The Cosby Show” contained a wholesomeness that is largely absent from today’s TV landscape, said Payne, noting co-creator and star Bill Cosby went to great pains to make sure the script was funny and that “the right message was getting across properly.”
“The values in America have changed. I think the focus has changed,” lamented Payne, 43, laid back in sunglasses, camouflage cargo shorts and a black zip-up sweater.
“It’s like, the things that used to get you blackballed and blacklisted or would cause you to never work again is now the thing that keeps you working forever.
“It’s like shock value and sensationalism, people are going for different things. You have reality TV that kind of took over.”
“We were talking about it all morning at breakfast. I sort of don’t get what’s happening, per se, especially for the black community,” added Givens. “I would’ve thought that ‘The Cosby Show’ was the beginning of more.”
“Because you know why?” said Payne. “You have people … who are in positions to make a difference and make a change and they’re not doing it. It’s kind of like, if you keep feeding people Spam, they’re never going to want steak because they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m happy with the Spam.'”
Payne, who has four sons, said he’d never be on a reality series, stating simply: “My reality is enough.”
And Givens said she won’t “do anything where anybody puts up a number,” a la “Dancing with the Stars.”
“I’m just not good at it, but I love to watch,” she added.
Instead, Givens prefers a more low-key existence in Los Angeles.
“I was raised Catholic so my day begins: I do school drop-off, I go to mass and then I go to yoga, and that gets me through the day,” said Givens, whose stage credits include “Chicago” on Broadway and the touring musical “Church Girl,” which ran last August in Toronto.
“I believe that there’s something bigger and more and greater and that keeps me kind of very sane and gives me a sense of safety and I think an understanding of certain things.”
Payne said he’s gaining a better understanding of his life as he develops his one-man show, noting writing it feels like “you’re throwing up your life.”
“It gets pretty deep,” said Payne, who wouldn’t reveal details of the show’s contents.
“I mean, I grew up in Harlem in New York and there were things going on in my life at that time, even while I was on ‘The Cosby Show,’ that I think people would be like, ‘What? Get out of here!'”