Gene Hackman hasn’t made a movie in more than a decade, but the former actor—who turns 85 today (and definitely isn't dead, despite what you might have read on the internet)—is still keeping busy, writing novels from his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here are some bon mots he’s said over the years, on everything from how he chose his projects to the joys of writing.

1. ON WANTING TO ACT:

"My mother and I were at a film once, and we came out through the lobby and she said, 'I want to see you do that someday.' And that was all that was needed. Because I already wanted to do it. But you have to have somebody tell you, or you need to be pushed a bit. And that's the only thing she's ever said to me about acting. Was she wanted to see me do that."

— From a 2004 interview with Larry King

2. ON DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES:

"Dysfunctional families have sired a number of pretty good actors."

— From a 2002 interview with The Guardian

3. ON THE WORST JOB HE’S EVER HAD:

"[W]orking nights in the Chrysler Building. I was part of a team of about five guys, and we polished the leather furniture. We had to work all night because people needed their chairs during the day. I wasn't very good at it."

— From a 2011 interview with Time

4. ON CHOOSING TO BE AN ACTOR:

"You go through stages in your career that you feel very good about yourself. Then you feel awful, like, Why didn't I choose something else? But overall I'm pretty satisfied that I made the right choice when I decided to be an actor."

— From a 2011 interview with GQ

5. ON HOW HE CHOSE PROJECTS:

"The overall screenplay first, then the character proposed to me, and after that the director and other actors—almost always in that order. Of course, in the Seventies I took a couple of pictures because of the locale…."

— From an interview with Film Comment

6. ON CELEBRITY:

"If you look at yourself as a star you've already lost something in the portrayal of any human being. ... I need to keep myself on the edge and keep as pure as possible. You need something to bring you down to a sense of who you are and who you're portraying. You need to remember you're not a movie star and that you shouldn't be too happy. You should never take anything for granted."

— From a 1989 interview with the New York Times

7. ON PLAYING VILLAINS:

"I always try to find in these bad guys, something that's human that makes them even more diabolical. If you see someone that's all bad, you kind of just put them in the monster category. But if you see someone who is really bad, but is also a father and a grandfather and all of that, that's even worse, I think."

— From an interview with About Entertainment

8. ON HIS ACTING TECHNIQUE:

"I do the same thing now was when I was just starting, I ask myself a few questions: How is this character like me? How is he unlike me? In the difference between these two, what is important? What choices can I make which will further the author’s intent? I ask myself where, when, why—real simple questions. I do an atmospheric kind of thing by dealing with objects such as where I’ve been when I come into a room, where I’m going when I leave it. Before every scene, I still do the same relaxation exercises [acting teacher George Morrison] taught me 20-odd years ago. First-year acting tasks. Those work for me.

"Of course, you can’t do just that. You have to make good choices and do a lot of technical things, too. It took ten years for me to fill up as a person, but once I became mature all of that kicked in in a simple, direct way."

— From an interview with Film Comment

9. ON COMMITTING TO A ROLE, NO MATTER HOW TERRIBLE THE MOVIE IS:

"I think all good actors do that. That you have to commit. Otherwise, you're going to see that film down the line and it's going to bite you right in the butt."

— From a 2004 interview with Larry King

10. ON WINNING HIS FIRST OSCAR FOR THE FRENCH CONNECTION:

"That night was like a dream. It was like I was standing in back of the theater and watching it through a lot of smoke. I just floated from my seat."

— From a 1989 interview with the New York Times

11. ON BEING VIOLENT IN MOVIES:

"It’s always hard for me, perhaps because there’s such a contradiction between fighting and the craft of acting. If you really fight somebody in a scene, it negates your craft. And since I’m only interested in my craft, it has to be resolved anew each time."

— From an interview with Film Comment

12. ON WATCHING HIMSELF IN MOVIES:

"I don't watch my films unless I absolutely have to. I get very nervous. It's more my perception of myself, or my desire of what I would like to look like. All I see are the double chins and the bags under the eyes and the receding hairline. ... I feel like when I'm actually doing the work, I know what I'm doing and I feel good about most of the stuff that I do. But when I see it on the screen, I have no idea if it's good, bad or indifferent. I can't be objective. I leave it up to other people to tell me."

— From a 2000 interview with Cigar Aficionado

13. ON RETIRING FROM ACTING:

"I miss the actual acting part of it, as it's what I did for almost 60 years, and I really loved that. But the business for me is very stressful. The compromises that you have to make in films are just part of the beast, and it had gotten to a point where I just didn't feel like I wanted to do it anymore."

— From a 2008 interview with Reuters

14. ON HIS WRITING PROCESS:

"Always in the morning. I can't write past two o'clock in the afternoon. If I do, then I'm up all night. I have a little office, you might call it. It's just a writing desk and a pretty comfortable chair. I write longhand and I go back and I go over it I don't know how many times and I hand it to the professor and she types it up. Then we go over it a number of times and get a little bit of a critique from the wife and like that."

— From a 2014 interview with Yahoo

15. ON WHAT ADVICE HE’D GIVE TO NEW WRITERS:

"Write what's in your heart. To be fulfilled as a writer, you have to write something that you care about."

— From a 2008 interview with Reuters