Robin Givens shatters TV image with sizzling portrayal of Imabelle

May 03, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Whatever Imabelle wants, Imabelle gets.

No man could deny Imabelle her druthers.

She's poured into that hourglass red dress like hydraulic fluid under 10,000 pounds of pressure p.s.i. Hubba-hubba and va-vooom.

Robin Givens, who plays Imabelle, laughs.

"I just kind of went for it," she says.

The role, in "A Rage in Harlem," may make the television actress a major motion picture star. She's already gotten an el-ravo plug from Liz Smith and great reviews all around the country.

The film, in fact, has been chosen for competition in the Cannes Film Festival, and Givens will be in attendance.

"That's a nice way to go to Cannes," she said.

Partially it's the stretch. As the uptown rich girl on "Head of the Class," and the so-called media bad girl and punching bag in her brief marriage to Mike Tyson (which she now refuses to discuss and recently walked off a taping of the "Today" show in a huff when Bryant Gumbel brought it up), Givens was typecast as an uptight control freak.

No one will say that after "A Rage in Harlem," where she struts, shimmies, wiggles, waggles and slithers. She's the femmest fatale in many a moon and that crash you just heard is her TV image shattering, and all the king's men and all the king's horses couldn't put it together again.

"I feel fortunate to have been chosen," says Givens. "I haven't seen a complete black woman on the screen since Dorothy Dandridge and when I read the part, I knew I wanted to do it. I fell in love with it. I thought it was incredible."

But Givens was very careful in her approach to the sinuous, complex, riveting Imabelle.

"I didn't want to do Robin doing Dorothy," she says. "Or Robin doing Marilyn or Robin doing Lauren Bacall. I just tried to find her. For example, she's very comfortable with her sexuality [author's note: and how!]. Her sexuality is her weapon. She's willing to use anything to survive. You have to put everything you've got into it."

Givens put everything she had into getting the part, too. She did screen tests, a process she describes at "very intense." At one point she flew to Cincinnati (where the film was shot) for yet another screen test. She was exhausted but "I mustered up some energy."

Getting here hasn't been half the fun.

"I came out to L.A. five years ago to make movies. I wanted the opportunity to do films. The television was great, but, to me, it was a help toward movies."

And now, it appears to be paying off.

"I'm enjoying getting phone calls from producers," she says with a laugh.

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