Q: You keep your nose pretty clean these days. Whatís your secret to long-term survival?
A: I believe an artist dies twice. The first time, itís just terrible—Iíve been there when the phone isnít ringing for years. Iím grateful for Rocky Balboa, because I donít think it could have happened five years ago. But the most important thing is not to implode. People go from the mountain into the valley and click into that dark, reptilian part of their brain and self-destruct. I see it all the time—people get frail, they get depressed, the light goes out. Thereís no cure for it other than a physical diversion. I donít care whether itís golf, running, or weight lifting.

Q: What advice would you give Mel Gibson if you had him over to smoke a Fuente?
A: Um . . . ride a bicycle?

Q: Youíve long wanted to shed your action-hero image—so why a sixth Rocky, why Rambo IV?
A: Times change. Ten years ago, everything had a different feel. When I said I wanted to do this film, I got the reaction I expected, with insults on every talk show: Bill Maher, Conan, Jay Leno. I get that, because thatís what the storyís about. Rocky has this incredible grief inside, and he can only work it out physically—itís got nothing to do with glory. Rocky Balboaís about dealing with the last half of your life, about grief, after your spouse dies and your daily routine changes drastically. And everything hurts a little more in the ring, but what you lose in speed you make up in wisdom and will. With Rambo I wanted a story about psychology and truth, with a hero whoís always in denial. A lot of guys donít want to admit that they have a propensity for generosity and for violence. Ramboís spent 15 years in Thailand, where just over the border in Myanmar, you see probably the most profound human atrocities on the planet: crucifixions, people being buried alive, farmersí houses getting burned to the ground. Missionaries go there all the time, but you canít depend on the U.S. government to get them out. Thatís how Rambo gets drawn into this heart of darkness.

Q: You were down to your last hundred bucks when you sold the first Rocky script. Should kids try this at home?
A: No doubt about it. Youíre going to fight a lot of wars, and lose some, but success comes when you least expect it. You might not nail it this time, but three years later someone comes up to you at a party and says, ďI just read this old draft.Ē

Q: Which is harder: boxing or filmmaking?
A: Nothingís harder than writing. Thereís no comparison. With directing you can bounce a lot of ideas around. Thereís tremendous support—youíve got editors and sound mixers. With writing itís all you, and itís just crippling when people tear up your pages.