Robin Givens Felt Like 'the World Was Crumbling' When She Learned of Jamie Foxx's Mike Tyson Movie
“I felt this drop in the pit of my stomach and was like, ‘Oh no, here we go again,’” the actress, 55, tells PEOPLE of learning about the biopic, which is currently in development. “I felt like the world was crumbling again.”
When Givens was 23 and starring in the hit ABC sitcom Head of the Class, she made headlines when she wed the former heavyweight champion in February 1988 — and then again, eight months later, when she famously filed for divorce from him amid allegations of physical abuse.
Tyson admitted to Oprah Winfrey on her show in 2009, "I have socked her before, and she socked me before, as well. It was just that kind of relationship."
As Givens tells PEOPLE, she worked hard to move on. “I kept going to Mass and yoga and just praying and hoping it would just all be okay in the end," she says.
She emerged even stronger than she was before, and is currently experiencing a career resurgence on Riverdale.
“I have a really, really nice life now,” she says. “I have children that I love.
"I've loved being Josie McCoy's mom on Riverdale, which has just been wonderful. I've gotten to do the spinoff, Katy Keene and I got to direct my first Lifetime movie, A Murderer to Remember, which aired last month. And I'll direct another one starting the end of this month for them."
She’s also devoted her time to organizations including the National Domestic Violence Hotline and speaks to women across the country about her own experiences — especially now that it's Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“My story was very public, but when I speak to women and I sit in shelters and I hold children, I realize that the details of our stories are the same," she says.
“My story is your story. Your story is my story.”
Even though Givens escaped the marriage, in the years since she says Tyson has continued to “re-victimize her” by bad-mouthing her in the media and in his 2012 one-man show, Undisputed Truth, based on his memoir of the same name.
After the split, “I remember my ex-husband calling up and saying, ‘I've decided I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to make your life so miserable you're going to slit your own throat and die,’” she recalls.
Over the years, he’s said she took his money and that he found her in bed with Brad Pitt.
"Not true!" she says. (Pitt had guest-starred on her show Head of the Class in the late 1980s.)
In Tyson's memoir, he wrote that Givens was "a broke charlatan when he met her."
Givens disputes that as being far from the truth. After graduating from the New Rochelle Academy at 15 and Sarah Lawrence College at 19, she was accepted to Harvard for graduate school, which she attended for two years until she decided to pursue acting. When she met Tyson at 22, she was on an ABC series and owned her own home.
“The marriage was eight months of my life and yet he’s still saying slanderous things on his podcast," she says.
“He’s not physically hitting me anymore, but it hurts almost as much," she says.
To prevent her likeness from being included in Foxx's film about Tyson, Givens had top Manhattan attorney Arthur Aidala send a cease-and-desist letter.
“It was pretty extensive,” says Aidala. “It highlighted all of the past abuse by Michael of her in the media and in his one-man show and in his book and that we were going to take legal action if the movie was going to feature derogatory and slanderous remarks."
Reps for Foxx did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
A rep for Tyson says, "As of now, Mr. Tyson’s attorneys have not received any cease and desist but there isn’t nor has there been any intention of including his relationship with her in his biopic. He wishes her well in all her endeavors."
“I’m more than relieved,” says Givens.
She says it felt good to finally defend herself, with Aidala’s help. “I felt like I could stand up now as opposed to before,” she says.
“Before I couldn't stand up, and maybe it's because the world has changed. I mean, we're living in a different world now, 2020 is a different time, I think, for women.
“Now I'm just trying to really give a voice to women that don't have a voice.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
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