Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Charles Smith; A-Rod Suspended for 2014 Season; Hollywood to Capitalize on Bible's Tales; The Hottest Cars of 2014

Aired January 12, 2014 - 08:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Suspended for the entire season. That's the decision on the immediate future of New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez. We've got his reaction, what his team is saying, and A- Rod's next move, ahead.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: You believe that? Buildings collapsed, trucks turned over, and it's just from the wind. Severe weather -- ooh. It is nasty across the country.

And religion is coming to a theater near you with a heavy roster of biblical films this year. Hollywood is betting that it could pack the seats. Could they anger the faithful though?

Your NEW DAY starts now.

We are so glad to have you company, as always. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. It is 8:00 here on the East Coast. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

First, former NBA star Charles Smith wants to set the record straight. He is talking exclusively to us right here on NEW DAY SUNDAY about the very controversial trip he made with Dennis Rodman to one of the most reclusive nations in the world -- North Korea.

PAUL: Yes. I mean, this trip and Rodman's comments in particular about the man he calls his friend, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and about American Kenneth Bae who is being held prisoner in North Korea. All of that just sparked this firestorm amongst conversations.

This is what Smith had to say when he arrived in Beijing Friday.


CHARLES SMITH, FORMER NBA PLAYER: We set out on a mission to use basketball as a bridge for cultural change. We accomplished that mission.

We attended -- we were in North Korea with tourists, with other Americans and our documentary film crew. And all of us agree the trip was simply incredible.


PAUL: Smith was at Rodman's side and seemingly tried to calm him down as Rodman spoke out about Kenneth Bae. He's patting Rodman on the shoulder there. Rodman kind of shake him off, saying, look, I've got this. Well, Smith says the visit was not about politics. It was about interacting with the North Korean people.

BLACKWELL: Well, Charles Smith joins us now live from Beijing.

First, it's good to have you. Thanks for being on NEW DAY SUNDAY.

You say you want to set the record straight, Charles. What needs straightening? We're going to start here. You have the floor. What have people misunderstood?

SMITH: Well, I think everyone knows that the trip was based on sport. We've used the term diplomacy but this trip and the things that we do are a lot more than that. It's more about cross cultural ambassadors. You know, we go out and we get engaged with other cultures. We get engaged from the standpoint of really getting into their customs and their beliefs for the purpose of understanding from a compassion standpoint and being able to represent them. And we've been doing this all over the world.

So, my relationship with Dennis and the things that we've been doing have been just phenomenal. I think this trip had -- because this is Dennis' first time doing an event on his own -- there was a lot of pressure added to him, the extent of the event and, you know, the things that transpired were, from my experience with him, were very unlike Dennis.

PAUL: Unlike him in what way?

SMITH: Well, you know, he's been engaging. We saw what happened on the show. It was unlike him from my experience in dealing with him over the years.

He definitely felt a lot of pressure. You know, what people do not understand about him, he's had his Hall of Fame speech which stated that he's a terrible dad, he said that publicly several times and, you know, what Dennis wants is he wants to -- he has a deep desire to do something good in a big way for his family, his kids, and so his kids can be proud of him.

And I felt -- I felt for him. I felt for him on this trip because I saw the pressure mount. I saw him change and it was very difficult keeping him and everyone together.

PAUL: OK. Well, he very passionately, as you know, told CNN's 's Chris Cuomo "all of you left your families over the holidays saying it was a sacrifice for you to go to help this country. I want to play a little bit of sound from him real quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: You got 10 guys here -- 10 guys here that left their families, left their damn families to help this country as a sports venture. There are 10 guys, all these guys here. Do anyone understand that?


PAUL: So, I'm just wondering, how was this trip presented to you and who asked you to go? Did Dennis ask you to go? Did -- who asked you to go and what did they tell you about your duties beforehand?

SMITH: Well, this was an amazing trip and how it came together was pretty amazing.

But my involvement in it was a phone call from Dennis. It was a phone call from a friend that needed some assistance and, you know, he mentioned what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. And, you know, I went to my advisors and my wife, Lisa, is probably my biggest advisor. And initially she said, no, I don't think that's a good idea.

But I went through a lot of my advisors and we talked about it, and we had some concerns, but when it came down to it, as I mentioned at the start of the show, we're cross-cultural ambassadors and this was going to be a great event from the beginning to the end -- and it was. I had no regrets in making the decision from the time I start to the time I left. There will be some great outcomes coming from it, very positive outcomes.

And Dennis needed the assistance, so I helped him with getting the players and helped him with the -- some of the execution and took a lot of the pressure off of him.

BLACKWELL: OK, Charles, you talk about getting a call from a friend who needs some assistance. Let's talk about someone else who needs some assistance, Kenneth Bae, who's being held in North Korea. He's been held since 2012. Real explanation from the government of what he did wrong. There are reports that Kim Jong-un recently ordered the execution of his uncle as well.

Were you aware of the case of Kenneth Bae, the execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle before you decided to go and help your friend and play basketball in North Korea?

SMITH: Oh, absolutely. I think, you know, the reports were widespread throughout the U.S. definitely knew some of the things that transpired in the media involving North Korea. But that's not we were not going there for that. We've been to some other places around the world that were controversial as well -- not as controversial as this, no doubt.

But we didn't go there for that. We went there to do what we normally do, and that's to be cross-cultural ambassadors and use the game of basketball as a bridge for exchange -- and we did that.

BLACKWELL: OK. SMITH: And we knew going in that, one, it was going to be historic --

BLACKWELL: Here's what I don't understand.

SMITH: Yes, go ahead.

BLACKWELL: Because one portion of your explanation is sports diplomacy. The other portion is we're not going for politics. Actually, I want to play a portion of an interview you did with CNN's Karl Penhaul last week talking about this sports diplomacy angle of your trip. Let's listen to that.


SMITH: The concept that we're doing is not new to the world. People have used sport for conflict resolution. One notable sport diplomacy issue was in 1972 between China and the U.S., the ping-pong diplomacy.

So, the concept is not new. We're new going to North Korea. We're new as U.S. players going to North Korea to play an exhibition game against their national team. But, conceptually, we're doing what's been done before.


BLACKWELL: So there are two things I have to ask you about. First, people, as I understand, don't engage in sports diplomacy. Governments engage in sports diplomacy and the U.S. government, through their State Department spokesperson, has said that the members of this team, especially Dennis Rodman, don't represent the U.S. government.

Second, this was not, as Dennis Rodman has explained, a sports diplomacy trip. This was a gift to the supreme leader of the Democratic Republic of North Korea.

Did you know that this was a birthday gift to Kim Jong-un?

SMITH: Well, let's first, let's attack or unpack the first question you asked.


SMITH: You said there is a contradiction regarding what I stated and you just played the tape.

There's no contradiction. What I said is that people do engage in sports diplomacy. The difference here is that we're athletes not being led by an organization or a company. We're athletes doing it ourselves. I think that's the key difference and we're very successful at it. So there's no contradiction there.

I also mentioned in 1972, ping-pong diplomacy. Yes, the difference is that we had a U.S. president and a V.P. engage in the diplomacy there. But diplomacy isn't left just for politicians. We had in 1970, we had Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Oscar Robinson, they did a game behind the Iron Curtain in Russia when it was unheard of.

So, there's been sports examples of athletes doing that. So I wanted to make sure you understood that there is no contradiction there.

The second thing you ask is regarding -- I believe it was Kenneth Bae?

BLACKWELL: No. This is about it being a birthday gift to Kim Jong-un. That's how Dennis Rodman has characterized this game. You say it is sports diplomacy.

SMITH: Yes, that's how Dennis --

BLACKWELL: This was a gift, he said, to his friend.

SMITH: Yes, you know, in addition to that, Dennis added that it was a gift to Kim Jong-un. That's the date that was set. I didn't know it was his birthday and to that, it didn't matter to me. And it didn't matter to me once we got there and it didn't matter to me once I found that it was his birthday.

It was a date that was set and we went and did the event. So, that really didn't matter.


PAUL: All right. Well, Charles, we've got some more questions for you but we have to take a quick break. If you'd be so kind, please just stick around for us.

SMITH: Sure.

PAUL: And we'll be back in just a moment. Stay close.



If you're just joining us, we're having a conversation with ex- NBA star Charles Smith. His first interview since that interview you saw with Chris Cuomo with Dennis Rodman and this basketball game in North Korea with the North Korean national team.

We were picking up on -- you said that you wanted to see the cultures and beliefs of North Korea.

PAUL: Yes. So we were wondering, as we -- and as you know since you've been there, how upsetting this has been to some people based on North Korea and its past and what we know of their cultures and beliefs. How much of North Korea did you see and when it comes to Jim Jong-il -- or un, rather -- did you meet him and what was your impression of him? SMITH: Well, I'll answer the latter because it is a little bit quicker. I met him after the game very briefly and just basically shook his hand and that was about it -- nothing more than that. When I did meet him, he appeared to be very engaging.

I've seen him at the arena. The people of North Korea really love him as a leader and they showed that by -- you know, they were clapping for him as long as ten minutes when he walked into the arena and everybody stood up.

It was a different kind of activity and a different kind of match. I'll get into that later. But when I did meet him, you know, he smiled, he was very engaging, direct eye contact. He seemed very confident and that's pretty simple.

But regarding the culture of North Korea, I did get around quite a bit. I did get out of the hotel and walk up the street be one morning. Did it again the second morning. Just to get out.

It appears that, you know, one, that North Korea is probably one of the safest, cleanest cities that I've been to around the world.

BLACKWELL: I can jump in here, please --

SMITH: Which is very surprising. When I --

BLACKWELL: I hate to cut you off, but you say that you left your hotel and you walked up the street.

I think the question gets to -- did you get outside of Pyongyang? Did you get outside of the palaces? Did you see that more than 25 percent -- according to a study back by UNICEF, 25 percent of the children in North Korea are chronically malnourished, that people make soup out of grass and leaves?

Did you see anything more than the beauty of Pyongyang that you were I'm sure expected and supposed to see? Did you see what is making so many people angry about this gift to Kim Jong-un?

SMITH: Well, I can -- I was talking to you about the culture a little bit and you asked me what I got a chance to see. But if -- to answer your question further, I didn't answer the first question, I did get outside of Pyongyang, took a drive through the countryside of about -- it was probably three, 2 1/2, three-hour drive outside.

And the agriculture -- the country is very mountainous, first of all. I did not see anything dealing with people being hungry or -- I didn't go to those parts of the country. I did ask about that and found that, you know, the terrain in the country is very mountainous and it's not very great for livestock. They don't have very many import/export relationships throughout the world.

BLACKWELL: There's a reason for that, though.

SMITH: Their beliefs is Juche. Their beliefs are the Juche system, which is spelled J-U-C-H-E, which they believe in being self- sufficient and self-sustaining and working with any outside groups, kind of make them believe that they lose control or lose power.


BLACKWELL: But there's also, Charles --

SMITH: I'm not defending.

BLACKWELL: I hate to interrupt but you say that because of their beliefs, they don't interact with outside groups. There are sanctions against North Korea, and for a reason. So, some of the interaction that's been limited was a decision made by the rest of the world and I think -- I guess this gets to the question of, do you understand why so many people are angry?

SMITH: Oh, absolutely. You know, I'm just answering your questions from what I saw.

I think just being inside there and seeing some of the things that I did, I'm just trying to explain to you. I absolutely understand why so many people are angry and that's why I went. You know, when we don't have information, it creates -- the lack of information causes a sense of fear and what we don't know we tend to draw opinions that may or may not be true.

I'm not defending North Korea, by far. I'm just explaining to you what I saw and what I've experienced.

Look, while I was there, I had an experience with one of the people there as an African-American. I went to go shake their hand and the guy kind of winced and stuck his hand out and shook my hand and rubbed the back of my hand as if my skin color is going to go off.

And I later chatted with him for a while to find that I was the first African-American person's hand that he ever shook and the images of African-Americans that they have, they're not that great. Then the next day after we talk for a while, the next day, he came up to me and said he was sorry.

You know, there's a lot that happened on that trip above and beyond playing a match and I'm only sharing with you my experiences, good, bad or indifferent. It was just something that I experienced.

PAUL: Well, you know, one of the things that I know you had said when you came back was Dennis Rodman characterizing Kim Jong-un as a friend and you said maybe we need to look at that characterization a little differently. You don't know if you agree with it.

We have to take a quick break. We'd like to ask you about that on the other side of that, though.

So, stay close. We'll be right back.


BLACKWELL: Welcome back to NEW DAY SUNDAY. If you're just joining us, we are continuing our exclusive interview with Charles Smith, the ex-NBA player who is just -- he's in Beijing after leaving North Korea, that controversial basketball game with Dennis Rodman. He's talking about what he saw, what he learned, and also, before we went to the break we talked about the term "friend" that Dennis Rodman has used.

PAUL: Dennis Rodman has used -- this is a good "friend of mine", to talk about Kim Jong-un, which is -- obviously, he's a very controversial figure in the U.S., in North Korea.

And so, Charles, I wanted to ask you, when you came back, I know that you had said maybe "friend" isn't the way that you would characterize him. Can you help us understand the relationship between Rodman and Kim Jong-un?

SMITH: I will try the best way I can.

You know, it started with it being publicized in the paper that Kim Jong-un was a Bulls fan. Dennis met a gentleman who would go in and out of North Korea, out of New York, at an event -- an auction event that Dennis was a part of and he spoke Korean. He's been in and out of there. He's a professor.

And that was kind of the start of Dennis going to North Korea to getting an invite to meet the leader. One thing that I found in their relationship is that Dennis is able to be accepted for himself and how he is there. It's very interesting dynamic.

And Dennis enjoys -- they had all the -- I saw some of the propaganda about Dennis going there and women and lavish lifestyle and all. It was none of that.

PAUL: Not that you saw.

SMITH: Basic meals -- no. I mean even I went with Dennis. It was just he and I, we want to -- we drove to the ski resort and it was reported that we were in a helicopter and did all this stuff. We went to the ski resort, saw it, had a lunch and, you know -- and it was nothing more than that.

BLACKWELL: We heard about that --


SMITH: The relationship to --

BLACKWELL: There's one other thing.

SMITH: The relationship to that --

BLACKWELL: We're running low on time.

SMITH: OK, sure. Go ahead.

BLACKWELL: I hate to jump in but we have a couple of other things we want to go to.

SMITH: Go ahead.

BLACKWELL: This is obviously an expensive venture. We know that from Dennis Rodman's agent that an Irish company, Paddy Power, paid for the travel expenses but his agent says Rodman was not paid by the North Korean government.

So, I'll ask you -- were you paid for this game by anyone?

SMITH: Yes, you know what? First of all -- twofold. One, absolutely we were paid. It wasn't as much as the guys usually get paid when they do stuff with me or our group, but absolutely. I mean, the guys --


BLACKWELL: How much was it then? That's a question I typically wouldn't ask, but how much were you paid?

SMITH: Let me finish answer the question.

BLACKWELL: Go ahead.

SMITH: That is no different than a top CEO of company retiring and becoming a consultant. So, if anybody has an issue with us being compensated, that's absurd.

BLACKWELL: How much were you paid?

SMITH: That was in answer to -- why should I mention? It's none of anyone's business how much we got paid.

BLACKWELL: I think it gets to motive though.

SMITH: There is no reason to answer that.

BLACKWELL: I think it gets to motive because --

SMITH: No, listen.

BLACKWELL: -- I think there's a lot of people who ask why would --

SMITH: Why does it have to be --


BLACKWELL: Why would a person go to North Korea as a gift to Kim Jong-un? And the first half of the interview, the first 25 minutes, we talked about cultural exchange.

SMITH: Sure. Victor, we already --

BLACKWELL: And now we're talking about the check.

SMITH: Victor, I already answered the question about --

PAUL: Well, I think people were wondering who paid you.

SMITH: Victor, we already answered the question -- we already answered the question about the birthday date and all that. So, we're beyond that.


SMITH: What I'm saying to you is, why would anybody have an issue with us being compensated? Now who compensated us? Paddy Power had pulled out, so the trip was off and on. And then, Paddy Power, along with our documentary film crew, paid for the expenses and gave guys honorarium to continue to do the trip.

Now, when I say it's more than money and it wasn't about that, trip, it was about the trip. I had an opportunity to go somewhere, to a recluse country that no one goes to. We were invited by the Olympic Committee from North Korea, that it assured our safe passage in and out, which they did. And it was an experience. I think the information that we gathered --

PAUL: And --

SMIHT: -- and what we saw, it was an experience.

PAUL: And do you, looking back at that now and knowing everything we know, do you have regrets about anything, any part of this?

SMITH: No, I have no regrets at all.

I think I spent most of my time with a gentleman by the name of Ri Jung-mu (ph) who is the sports minister there in North Korea. We shared a lot of stories about he played soccer there in North Korea. We shared a lot of stories about sports and how they train and different sorts of things.

I don't know in the foreseeable future, but I believe that there are going to be positive outcomes from this and there are already positive outcomes from this.

PAUL: What are they?

SMITH: I feel very saddened --

PAUL: What do you feel like you accomplished?

SMITH: I feel very saddened about -- the reason why I'm here is because you're asking me about the information and things that we saw in North Korea that we don't have any intelligence on. And I think, like I said --

BLACKWELL: No, the question was -- maybe you misheard. The question was, what did you accomplish? You said there are already been positive outcomes, there will be positive outcomes. What are they?

SMITH: Yes. We accomplished a relationship on the sports side in North Korea. Where it goes from there, I do not know at this point in time. But we established a relationship. They've asked us to come back.

Whether we go back or not, I'm not sure. I don't know.

But there was a relationship established between a group of individuals in two different countries that don't communicate. I say those individuals are those athletes on the national team in North Korea. We spent a lot of time with them. A lot of guys went to a water park and bowled with them and got to really understand their culture.

They asked us a ton of questions about how we live and what they do. We asked them a lot of questions about, you know, how they live and what they do and the exchange was just -- it was awesome. I think, again, I don't know what the outcomes will be later on but I'm sure that they will be positive. There will be some positive things coming from this.

BLACKWELL: I've just been given the wrap-up. We've had it, believe it or not, a 30-minute conversation and we really appreciate your candor and being open and speaking with us.

I've got one more question that I think we glazed over and it was about the compensation. I don't mean to belabor the point, but quite bluntly, was there any compensation -- any money that came to you from the North Korean government?

SMITH: Absolutely not. I think I'm astute enough to understand the dynamics, especially collecting monetary dollars from North Korea. No, we did not get paid from North Korea at all.

BLACKWELL: All right. Just for point of clarity.

PAUL: Yes, yes. Charles Smith, we appreciate so much you taking the time to talk to us. Safe travels back to the U.S. Take good care.

And we're back in just a moment. Stay close.


PAUL: Bottom of the hour right now. Hope Sunday's been good to you. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to have you with us

Alex Rodriguez -- we now know he's going to be sitting out the 2014 season after losing an appeal over his record setting drug suspension.

PAUL: 162 games, to be exact, this season -- can't play in any post-season playoff games either. Rodriguez denies the drug use alleged in the investigation though. And the thing is, he says I'm going to keep fighting this.

CNN Sports Rachel Nichols has more on the story from Charlotte, North Carolina. And I know that Rachel, A-Rod has claimed in the past the Yankees aren't behind him on this because they want to get out of giving him that huge paycheck for the season. What more do you know about that?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: Well, this is a tactic. Look, Alex Rodriguez's legal team has clearly decided in the past few months that the best defense is a good offense so they are trying to make this into a larger issue, really trying to make this about anything that is not did Alex Rodriguez let someone inject him with steroids.

Let's just take a look at the statement that he released here. He said quote, This injustice is Major League Baseball's first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining rounds -- he's trying to point to that; instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, -- trying to point to that; further insinuating its corrupt investigation program from any variety of defense by accused players, any variety of objective review. So now he's criticizing the process there.

So you can see he's really taking a shot at three different things that he wants to point out that is wrong with Major League Baseball, wrong with his team maybe, to take away from the idea of, Hey, did Alex Rodriguez use drugs that he wasn't supposed to.

Now, I do -- have talked to many other players around the league. Some of them do have concerns, these larger issues with is baseball overstepping its bounds in cases like these. So it is a smart tactic. It is smart of Alex to try to gather support.

However, those same players that I've spoken to don't want their cause tied up with Alex Rodriguez. They feel like this is a separate issue.

I do have to note for you guys. You mentioned that he is going to continue to fight this. Alex has said that he wants to take this to federal court. Most legal analysts don't think he has much of a case there since he is part of the players' union. The union has agreed to this binding arbitration process that produced this suspension so they don't think he has much of a legal case.

But even within the rules, even with the way things are now, Alex is allowed to show up at spring training this coming year. He is allowed to participate in some of their spring training and pre-season activities. That should be interesting considering, as you noted, he is a bit at odds with his own team.

BLACKWELL: All right. So we see you're in Charlotte for the 49ers-Panthers playoff game. What can we expect?

NICHOLS: Yes, you know this should be a really good one. They had record viewership for last weekend's playoff games. And if they're going to have it again this weekend, it might be because of this game. Two really exciting teams, two exciting quarterbacks -- Colin Kaepernick for the 49ers, Cam Newton for the Panthers -- really a Heisman trophy winner and someone we expected to be a big star in this league coming into his own right now. This is the first time he will be in the playoffs.

And even the coaches. These two guys Jim Harbaugh and Ron Rivera used to be teammates for the Chicago Bears back in the '80s -- those fun Chicago Bears team. We get a little bit of a rivalry there as well.

It should be a great game today, guys, and a great weekend at the playoffs. This is one of the best. Remember, we're only three weeks away from the Super Bowl in New York so lot of excitement around here.

PAUL: Good heavens.

All right. I want to ask you about last night's game, for one. And secondly, I know you just were listening in to our interview with Charles Smith and want to get your take-away from that.

NICHOLS: Yes. We could start last night's activities certainly pretty exciting. We had chalk in those games for a change since last weekend we had a bunch of upsets. Certainly you got to be excited about the idea of Tom Brady and the Patriots possibly, if Peyton Manning and the Broncos win today, going to play the Broncos next weekend. If that does happen, you will have one of those great Peyton Manning/Tom Brady match-ups that we've all grown to love over the next decade. We'll have to see how all this plays out but some exciting games yesterday.

Then when you did talk about Charles Smith, I found that fascinating what you guys were talking about over the past half-hour. We've long known Charles to be one of the smarter players in the NBA when he was playing. Certainly a thoughtful guy, as you guys discovered upon talking to him.

So it was a little bit surprising to see him take this trip and to see him trying to jump in, in the interview that CNN had earlier this week with Chris Cuomo, jump in and defend Dennis and defend the trip. He said a variety of things since that moment. Sort of whether he regrets it or not, I heard him on the air just with you guys now saying he doesn't have any regrets.

I think this is a complicated situation for a lot of these guys. And I had the opportunity to ask David Stern when he was a guest on THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer why a guy like Charles Smith would take this trip since we know that Charles is a different guy than Dennis Rodman who tends to do this sort of thing. We wouldn't expect this from Charles.

He just said, look. I think these guys were blinded by the payday. I know that was the topic of the end of your conversation with Charles Smith and I do think that money was a factor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Rachel Nichols, thank you so much. PAUL: All right. You know what? It's Noah's Ark like you've never seen it before with millions of dollars, an all-star cast. This isn't the only bible tale Hollywood wants to turn into a blockbuster.


BLACKWELL: For today's "Faces of Faith" -- sorry about that -- we're talking about what some people are dubbing "Hollywood's Year of the Bible".

PAUL: Yes. And the reason is because in 2014, Tinseltown's just cranking out some movies of biblical proportions, such as "Noah".


RUSSELL CROWE, ACTOR: A great flood is coming. We build a vessel to survive the storm. We build an arc.


PAUL: Noah as you see there, yes, that's Russell Crowe and the film has a whopping $130 million budget.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Then coming in February, a film about Jesus called "Son of God". Look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your sins are forgiven, my son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought God only forgave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is easier to say his sins are forgiven or say he get up and walk.


BLACKWELL: And there's more. Brad Pitt is reportedly playing the man who had Jesus crucified in "Pontius Pilate" and Christian Bale is playing Moses in "Exodus".

PAUL: And there's even a film about the Virgin Mary called "Mary, Mother of Christ". Another film called "Heaven is Real" will be out right before Easter. BLACKWELL: Ok. So we've listed the films. The question is why? Why so many books about the bible and why now? Joining us to answer that question, film critic Tom O'Neil from and Professor Brent Strawn who teaches religion and theology at Emory university. He is also an ordained United Methodist minister.

Let's start with you Tom -- why is Hollywood now investing so much in these biblical films?

TOM O'NEIL, FILM CRITIC, GOLDDERBY.COM: Well, the Bible Miniseries on the History Channel last year set new cable viewing records. And I think that was a wake-up call to them. It was just ten years ago this year that Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" made $600 million.

I think Victor, the question really is, why haven't they tapped this sooner? Because Hollywood has the tradition of the biblical epics like "The Cardinal", "Ben-Hur" and "The Ten Commandments", of course.

PAUL: Yes. Well, Brent I want to ask you -- is this going to bring people back to the church. Or you know, is there a risk that they're going to offend a lot.

BRENT STRAWN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: You ask a good question.

I mean I teach religion and bible for a living -- right. So anything that gets people acquainted for the first time or maybe re- acquainted with some of these great stories from the bible and in the religious tradition is a great thing. But I don't know if it will bring them back to church. It might get them back to reading the bible again or some of the stories but clearly there is upsides and downsides when you're comparing the original and these massive projects.

PAUL: Do you support films like this? I mean do you want to see --

STRAWN: Oh, yes. I mean I think it is great. Again, it engages people. But, I think there's upsides and downsides. One of the downsides is the question of accuracy. I mean are these things accurate? Will they offend people who think they're not accurate enough or too accurate, either progressively or conservatively? That's always a big issue. But they're not documentaries -- that's the key point.

BLACKWELL: And the approach because we see some big-name directors getting involved -- Tom. We're seeing -- we've got the list here -- we've got Ridley Scott getting involved. We've got other directors who are getting involved in these films. And some of them are known for darker movies -- horror films with different angles there. Are we going to see the darker angle or perception of the bible?

O'Neil: Right. Darren Aronofsky who did the "Black Swan" is directing "Noah". And I'm really concerned about this issue you're bringing up here because look, why are they casting Russell Crowe? This man is more known for punch thy neighbor than love thy neighbor.

And the movie called "Mary Mother of Jesus" coming out near Christmas time is from the same guy who wrote "Passion of the Christ" -- a movie that was called, you know, quite brutally torture porn it was so violent. And what we do know about that film coming out is that it focuses largely on Herod's slaughter of innocent children. So are parents going to want to see this movie? Are they exploiting the religious stories?

PAUL: Well, that's what I was wondering. Like Brent, you brought up how accurate are they going to be based on the bible. I know there are certainly it's up to interpretation for people, as they say. And I'm wondering if other people will look at this and say, man, is there something sacrilegious about making -- you know, profiting off biblical stories? What do you say to that?

STRAWN: Yes, well, you know, Tom pointed out that Hollywood's done this for a long time with the biblical motifs and movies and it goes way back to the early days of film. And so in some ways it is surprising they haven't capitalized on it earlier.

I mean I think it's -- it will be a little bit disturbing if we have "Noah" action figures and things like this at Christmas time. But at the same time, the biblical texts are spare and sparse. I mean the whole Noah story in the Old Testament takes less than 100 versus, you know. That's not going to sustain two hours --

PAUL: Two hours.

STRAWN: -- and $130 million budget. So you got to fill things in, you know. And in that sense people can worry about, is this too much license, is this sacrilegious. On the other hand, this is like great religious art, like Rembrandt. They afford us unique insights into the texts that we haven't thought of before in comparing the original and this new artistic rendition often casts new significant light on both items.

BLACKWELL: Tom, is there any concern that as we go on into the year -- we talk about the ones that are coming out in the first quarter, but as we get kind of further into 2014 that some of the interest will kind of fade off and this might backfire for people who are adding a late summer or fall release?

O'NEIL: Absolutely. Two of these movies -- two of the biggest ones both come out in December of next year competing for holiday moviegoers and that's "Mary Mother of Jesus" and "Exodus" -- both of them. So that could be a big issue.

And also, by the way, "Son of God is a little dubious, too, because this is outtakes from the Bible Miniseries. This is from Mark Burnett who gave us "Celebrity Apprentice". They shot extra footage -- they're repackaging it as a feature film to capitalize on the movie miniseries. And quite frankly, the movie miniseries as well viewed as it was got very bad reviews. Critics said it was just too episodic. It didn't really flesh out and told the stories.

BLACKWELL: So this is what's left over of a miniseries that got bad reviews.

PAUL: Right.

O'NEIL: Right.

PAUL: Let's all rush out and see that.

BLACKWELL: Ok. Buy your ticket now.

Professor Brent Strawn and Tom O'Neil -- thank you so much.

O'NEIL: Thanks -- my pleasure.

PAUL: All right. For more stories on faith, be sure to check out our belief blog at as well.

Thank you Tom. Thank you Brent.

Still to come on NEW DAY, the Detroit Auto Show -- oh, car lovers, stick around. We're previewing the year's biggest car show right after this.


PAUL: All right, car enthusiasts, this is your time of year. The Detroit Auto Show kicking off tomorrow.

BLACKWELL: And joining us now with a preview is Jonny Lieberman -- he's the senior features editor at "Motor Trend". Good to have you.

So what's making headlines this year? What's the hot, new it car?

JONNY LIEBERMAN, SENIOR FEATURES EDITOR, "MOTOR TREND": For this show, it is going to be the Mustang, the new Ford Mustang. This is the 50th anniversary of the Mustang. First came out in 1964. This is 2014. So this is going to be the car that is probably going to be the hottest thing.

However, there's a rumor going around that Ford is also going to show off the new F-150. That's been the best selling vehicle in the U.S. for over I think 34 years. They sell over 700,000, just last year alone. So it's a huge deal, if it's true.

PAUL: Good heavens. What are some of the top trends you think we're going to see in vehicles? Top trends.

LIEBERMAN: Besides pick-up trucks, I think what's called small premium. So this is a segment kind of developed by mini -- Mercedes that came out with the CLA 45. BMW has the new 2-series, eventually the 1-series. Audi has the A3. Lincoln started to make some small cars. Cadillac starting to sell a lot of small cars. So kind of luxury brands but smaller vehicles from these established luxury brands.

Then also I'd say car connectivity -- so being able to do social media and all that kind of stuff from within your car. In other words, hook your cell phone life up to your vehicle.

PAUL: Wow.

BLACKWELL: So we're just on the back end of the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas and there was some talk about the driverless cars. Do you think that we're going to see any of these concept cars and we're going to see this transition into not having to drive your own automobile? LIEBERMAN: Yes, you will. In fact, we're already seeing it. At the Frankfurt Motor Show earlier -- or I guess late last year, Mercedes showed something called S Class Intelligent Drive and it can drive itself. It basically takes an existing Mercedes S-Class adds a couple of cameras and a computer and it is able to drive itself.

Lawyers are preventing this from happening. The technology is just about there but the cars can do it. They do know how to do it.

PAUL: I would think fear would also keep it from happening because I mean, let's face it, technology does not always work and -- what happens if a car goes rogue on us? How safe are the technologies that you're seeing?

LIEBERMAN: I mean how safe are human beings?

BLACKWELL: That's true.

PAUL: Well that's true.

LIEBERMAN: We still have over 30,000 people die a year in car accidents. Again, it is really fear of lawsuits that's preventing this technology. And when you do start to see these autonomous vehicles, you're still going to have to have a human being in a driver seat buckled in holding a steering wheel. ?the car will drive itself but, you know, in case something does go wrong, they want a human there to take control.

By 2050, will that be the case? I doubt it. But in the next five years when we really do start to see these things, that will be the case.

PAUL: Just in time for my (AUDIO GAP)

BLACKWELL: Well, she won't need much. Just sit in the seat.

PAUL: Jonny Lieberman, thank you so much. We appreciate your insight.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you Jonny.

And next on CNN NEW DAY SUNDAY, severe weather wreaks havoc across the south. Have you seen this? Some of the video is unbelievable. We've got a live report next.


BLACKWELL: Tornado warnings, flood watches, dangerous winds. Severe weather is causing headaches for a lot of people who live in the Midwest and also in the South.

PAUL: Yes. So let's see what's in store. Meteorologist Jennifer Gray in the CNN Severe Weather Center -- severe weather, is that what we're going to see? JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it is over. This storm system that pushed through yesterday, it is out of here. We are waiting on another one at the beginning of the week but it is not going to be as strong by any means.

Look at that, 87-mile-per-hour winds in Boulder, Colorado, right around the Raleigh-Durham Airport. 86-mile-per-hour winds -- we actually have some video in North Carolina of what happened with these strong winds. This apartment building completely collapses. It was under construction, of course, but it just collapsed in those winds.

And we also had icy conditions and high winds in Wisconsin that caused quite a bit of crashes as well. So it was a wild day across all of the nation yesterday.

Good to report though, that we are going to have better weather as we roll through the beginning part of the week. Rain totals in Georgia, Athens almost four inches of rain yesterday. That was for the past three days combined. And another system starting to take shape across the South, it is going to pull in to the southeast late Monday night, into Tuesday -- doesn't look like we're going to see quite the punch that we saw with this other system. Meanwhile, temperatures staying mild in the east -- the system could bring slightly cooler temperatures but nothing, Victor and Christi, that we saw last week.


PAUL: All right. Hey, Jennifer, thanks so much. Go make some great memories today.

GRAY: Will do.

BLACKWELL: Thank you so much for joining us. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley starts right now.