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February 23, 2015 at 11:08 PM EST

Kirk Douglas—the beloved screen legend who turned 98 in December—never tires for great conversation, especially when the subject is moviemaking and how to survive it. (One tip: Drag your hotshot director to therapy.) We invited the actor, still blessed with the playful masculinity and moral fiber of the Old Hollywood icon that he is, to reminisce about four of his greatest roles.

SPARTACUS (1960)

Douglas’ most indelible role—as a Roman slave leading an epic rebellion—is also the one that best allowed him to flex his muscle within Hollywood. “Spartacus represents all people who work for freedom,” he says, noting that as a producer he’d hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to pen the film under a pseudonym. “Then I decided—the hell with it! I’m going to put his name on it. That’s the thing I’m most proud of. It caused me a lot of trouble, but it was worth it.” Douglas admits there was a limit to the freedom even he could exhibit on set, though. “There wasn’t much to my outfit,” he laughs, referring to his wardrobe-malfunction-prone tunic. “I had to be careful. But I’m always careful.”

(Reporting by Natasha Stoynoff)

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