<P>Michael Imperioli, <EM>For One More Day</EM></P>

Michael Imperioli, For One More Day

Former TV gangster Michael Imperioli will find some redemption this Sunday, Dec. 9, at 9 pm/ET on ABC, in the Oprah-produced tear-jerker For One More Day.

Imperioli has played a hard-nosed detective (Law & Order), a pervy telephone caller (Girl 6), a gang­ster wannabe (Goodfellas) and, un­forgettably, a mobster junkie (The Sopranos). So who would have guessed that one of his biggest acting challenges would come in an Oprah Winfrey-produced TV-movie that requires him to… throw a baseball?

"I'm not gonna lie, I'm not a good ballplayer, certainly not a natural one," says Imperioli, 41, a Mount Vernon, New York, native who grew up rooting for the Yankees. "I spent some time trying to pick the brain of [Yankees catcher] Jorge Posada and I worked with a trainer, but it ain't easy."

In For One More Day, Imperioli plays Chick Benetto, a washed-up New York Mets catcher who's traded tossing baseballs for tossing back the booze. "Acting like you've had too much to drink is an incredible chal­lenge," says the man who nailed every junkie jitter as Tony Soprano's alcoholic, heroin-addicted nephew Christopher Moltisanti. "It takes a lot of attention to your body and your entire physical state. You have to be aware of every movement, every word, every slur. I've tried doing it while actually being drunk, and it doesn't work. I've tried it sober and, well, it works better. But it's still rough."

Based on Mitch Al­bom's best-selling novel, For One More Day is a holiday-ready story about second chances. Just as he's ready to commit suicide, the has-been athlete is visited by his long-deceased mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, who makes her son peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, kisses him on the cheek and expounds on the secrets of a good life.

Both Imperioli and Burstyn say the appeal of For One More Day was the very thing many literary critics panned: the heart-on-its-sleeve message. Albom's fic­tion regularly hits the upper reaches of best-seller lists by tying together the emo­tional strongholds of love and faith. "We all want to believe that things can work out, and this story truly illustrates that," says Burstyn, who spent six weeks shooting in Norwalk, Connecti­cut, last summer. "That's Mitch's gift — he helps people see the possibilities. He's a writer with true vision."

The 75-year-old Burstyn, whose autobiography Lessons in Becoming Myself was published last year, says she particularly related to the message of learning from the past. "I don't know anything about being dead — yet," says the actress, who's been nominated for six best-actress Oscars and won one for 1974's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. "But I do know about being a guide and taking yourself by the hand through your own history. I've been able to chart my own growth and see the changes I made, and my character did that, too. It was a won­derful parallel. And best of all is that in real life, I'm alive."

Somehow, we're sure Imperioli could relate.

Watch more of Michael Imperioli in our Online Video Guide.

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