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AMERICAN MORNING

Test of Faith; Discussion With Michael Imperioli

Aired March 10, 2006 - 08:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(MARKET REPORT)
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: This is the woman who left her high-powered job as a marketing executive to perfect her pound cake. Then Amy Hilliard used her business and baking acumen to find her comfort zone.

CNN's Jennifer Westhoven tells us more in a new edition. It's called "Life After Work."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMY HILLIARD, "COMFORT CAKE" CREATOR: Yes. Looking good, ladies. Looking good.

JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pound cake was always the star attraction at Amy Hilliard's thanksgiving dinner.

HILLIARD: At one point, I said if one more person tells me I should put this on the market, I'm going to do it. I'm a marketer. That's what I do.

WESTHOVEN: Amy, a Harvard MBA, quit her marketing job and started Comfort Cake.

HILLIARD: I envisioned having a big company right from the start. I was a single mother. I had two children, and I have two children that I'm putting through college.

WESTHOVEN: Amy couldn't get a bank loan so she risked it at all. She sold her house to start up her new business.

HILLIARD: I'll make this work somehow is my attitude, because I had some instances where I could have just said this is too tough. Our very first customer that came on board was United Airlines.

I got some samples to them through a friend of mine and they liked them and they called me up and they said, you know, we really like your cake. And I was so excited I'm like, great, I can get you some more samples. And they're like, no, we want to buy 500,000 slices.

WESTHOVEN: Seven years later, there are 16 kinds of Comfort Cake on sale in stores and on the Internet.

HILLIARD: The sky is the limit. Why not? I mean, we started from nothing and I look at people who started from nothing, I say if they can do it, I can do it. If Mrs. Fields can do it, I can do it. If Howard Schultz of Starbucks can do it, I can do it.

We can make our product and ship it overseas, and there is a lot of markets where people like sweet goods. Who is to say we can't have Comfort Cake in China? Why not?

WESTHOVEN: Jennifer Westhoven, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Reverend Franklin Graham -- he is with us live from New Orleans, next on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Back to New Orleans now. The Reverends Billy and Franklin Graham are in that city. They're there this morning trying to offer some hope to a devastated part of the world.

We're joined now by Franklin Graham, who is president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse, as well as, of course, head of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.

Good to have you with us, Reverend Graham.

REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, PRES. & CEO, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: Thank you, Miles. Good to be with you, sir.

M. O'BRIEN: What are people telling you? What are you saying to them?

GRAHAM: Well, Miles, we've been working in New Orleans now for many months helping to mud out homes. We're helping -- work with the chaplains here and the pastors of the churches. I tell you, people are discouraged after all these months, so many neighborhoods, there is still not a decision as to what is going to happen to people's homes. Are they going to rebuild? Are they not going to be able to rebuild? And I think there is a lot of despair.

And, of course, we have come to preach and proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the hope that we have when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, God's son, and invite him into our hearts, into our lives. Jesus Christ can make a change in our lives. He can make a big difference.

And the people here are looking for hope. And so, my father is with me. You know, New York was supposed to be, Miles, his last meeting, but it's really been a burden on his heart to come and be with these people here. And to thank ...

M. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, I want to ask you about how he's doing in just a moment. But first, I want to go back to something that Mayor Nagin said just a little while ago. Let's play what he said. I know you know what I'm about to play. Let's listen for just a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: As we think about rebuilding New Orleans, surely God is mad at America. He's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane and it's destroying and putting stress on this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: And the reason I play that is, of course, you know, in October, you said that thing that kind of paralleled that about whether Satan was involved or God was mad at New Orleans. What do you say to people who say that, God is mad at America or New Orleans?

GRAHAM: No, I don't believe that. And, first of all, I don't believe that the storm was necessarily God's judgment. I believe, if anything, Satan is behind this. He is the one who wants to destroy. When you read the Bible, he is the one who wants to kill and take one's life.

I believe when you have faith Jesus Christ -- listen, Miles, that's not your ticket to keep you out of a storm, but he certainly is your anchor in that storm. And there are many people here testify to their faith of how God protected them during that storm.

You know, we're going to have storms in life, Miles, no question, whether it's cancer in your life, economic problems in your life. All of us go through individual storms or collectively like here in New Orleans.

But I believe that God loves us and he cares for us and we want to learn from these storms and I think out of this is going to be a new New Orleans. And I think coming out of this, we've seen already some wonderful things take place, churches coming together, working together.

And this is a city that is racially divided and we're seeing races come together for the first time. And it's a good thing. Even though there has been a great tragedy, I think there's some good things that can come out of this that will help New Orleans for years to come. This is a tough city.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, to say the least. We all know that. But I want to go back to what you said at the outset, despair. When you run into despair, that is an anathema to faith and it is what undermines faith. And with so many issues that are right there in their face, every day, all day, are people in New Orleans ready to hear that message?

GRAHAM: Well, we were invited by over 200 churches to come. So we're at the invitation of the churches, Miles. We just didn't come down here and rent the arena and say we're here. This was an invitation from the churches, and this invitation came back in October. And so, yes, this city is ready for it. They want us to be here. They're excited about it. And, again, we're going to present not our message but it's God's message, that he loves us. The Bible says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shouldn't perish but have everlasting life."

And I think people need this hope and they're wanting to hear what we have to say, so we're excited about being here. If you can, Miles, why don't you come join us?

M. O'BRIEN: If I could get down there, I would. I'd love to see it. I'd love to see your dad as well. How's he doing? Give us an update. He is just amazing.

GRAHAM: He is doing great. I can't believe that he is here. He told me a few months ago, he said, Franklin, I want to come with you to New Orleans. And, you know, many people thought New York was his last crusade and it was, but it wasn't his last opportunity to preach. He is here one more time to preach on Sunday, and I hope that he will do this again in some of the other cities we will be in this spring.

M. O'BRIEN: The Reverend Franklin Graham, who, along with his amazing father, will be preaching in New Orleans this weekend. Thanks for your time.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I know he said that the last time but I don't believe it. I think the Reverend Billy Graham will be back to New Orleans several times, probably with Franklin too.

M. O'BRIEN: I think so. I think he'll be there.

S. O'BRIEN: I think I feel pretty safe in saying that.

Ahead this morning, we're going to talk to the actor, Michael Keaton, about a new movie. It's called "Game Six." It's written by a terrific author. We'll ask him why he signed on to such a small project. Also, Michael Imperioli of "The Sopranos" will joins us live. He's going to share -- there he is, going to share some secrets, all the secrets about Sunday night's big premier. You've got them right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Gentlemen, start your engines.

MICHAEL IMPERIOLI, ACTOR: Jesus Christ. Artie, I can recite that menu in my sleep!

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Where did he get this bread? The bread museum?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: The family is all back. On this morning's "AM Pop." After an 19-month hiatus, mob family values returns to television to Sundays. "The Sopranos" will begin its sixth season on HBO, and one of the show's stars, of course, is Michael Imperioli. He plays "Tony Soprano's" nephew, Christopher, with us in the studio.

Nice to see. Thanks for talking with us.

IMPERIOLI: Thanks for having me.

S. O'BRIEN: It was kind of odd, to take 16 months off. They stopped production in 2004, and that picked up again. So was that strange for you as an actor?

IMPERIOLI: We had a long time. It was our longest ever. For an actor, to be honest, it's really kind of great because on most series, you get two months off, maybe three months. And you don't get to do a whole lot. But we get to do -- I did a movie. I directed a play. I was on "Law & Order" for four shows.

S. O'BRIEN: Are you worried that you lose the viewers, though? Because there is always that concern that, you know, if you're off too long, people sort of get out of the habit of watching, or is there an upside. Now everyone is going to rush back to their TVs?

IMPERIOLI: I think it's going to work in our favor to be honest with you. I think we've been gone so long, there's a lot of hype, there's a big momentum, and we're back with a vengeance.

S. O'BRIEN: And everybody knows -- everyone was talking about sort of where we left it last, which of course, Christopher, who had been struggling with a drug problem, which is still sort of a problem, your character, Christopher, and his girlfriend, FBI informant, kind of frees everybody up to -- she gets whacked. That's where it ended. Let's listen to a clip of the new season first.

IMPERIOLI: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IMPERIOLI: You won't find any of that. I'm reading. I'm lifting weights. I know what you think, but you'll see. I'm going to prove myself to you. I only chipped out once on a date with her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: They're talking about drugs and he's not clean. This is the old season I should point out.

IMPERIOLI: That's the old one.

S. O'BRIEN: That's from last season.

IMPERIOLI: They had trouble finding a clip without profanities.

S. O'BRIEN: A usable clip.

In the new season -- that was the old season, a little cleaner for morning television.

What happens for your character this season?

IMPERIOLI: Well, we kind of pick up where we left off. Well, some time has passed, but he's clean, and he's going on with his life, and he's trying to make some kind of peace with the fact that his girlfriend, you know, went south.

S. O'BRIEN: Went south, that is an interesting euphemism, considering -- I could hear laughing from the other room, you realize that?

It's strange that any of the characters can go south in this (INAUDIBLE). I mean, truly, does it sort of free you up as an actor, or does it kind of scare you?

IMPERIOLI: I think it frees you up.

S. O'BRIEN: Really, why? How?

IMPERIOLI: Because you got to make everything count, every moment. You know, every scene has got to count, because it might be your last.

S. O'BRIEN: How far ahead do you know if you're going to be the...

IMPERIOLI: Well, I think if that's actually going to happen, if you're killed off, David kind of pulls you aside a couple of months in advance. But otherwise, you get scripts maybe two weeks in advance.

S. O'BRIEN: Really. That's so interesting.

Want to give us any secrets about the new season?

IMPERIOLI: Julianna Margulies is going to join us as a real estate named "Julianna," and she sells real estate.

S. O'BRIEN: Getting the secrets of the new season is like wringing...

IMPERIOLI: Getting warmer now, you see.

S. O'BRIEN: ... water from a stone for you guys. But I know you have a lot of other projects to talk about as well. So let's get into some of those. What else are you working on?

IMPERIOLI: My wife and I own a theater named Studio Dante in New York where we find new plays...

S. O'BRIEN: Where is that? IMPERIOLI: West 29th Street.

S. O'BRIEN: My neighborhood.

IMPERIOLI: Oh, great. A new play opening on Wednesday called "Cyclone," and a big fund-raiser, where we'll do readings of plays with Edie Falco, Steve Buscemi, Jesse Martin, Steve Shirp (ph), Annabella Sciorra, and you can find out all of that information on studiodante.com.

S. O'BRIEN: Fantastic. Well, congratulations on that.

IMPERIOLI: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Congratulations and on your new series. I really, truly hope that you don't get whacked.

IMPERIOLI: Me, too.

S. O'BRIEN: I like the way this guy pulls you aside, let's you know.

Michael Imperioli, thanks for talking with us this morning. Appreciate it.

IMPERIOLI: Thank, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: "Sopranos," of course, Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Top stories ahead: That controversial U.S. ports deal dead. The judge in the Moussaoui trial warns prosecutors they're on shaky legal ground. Severe weather rips through the south, killing at least two people. NASA's Mars orbiter closes in on the red planet. And a bizarre attack on two pregnant women in their car. It's all caught on tape.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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