Like Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne before him, the characters Clint Eastwood has played in the movies are part of the American culture.
But most people tend to forget that he is also one of America's finest directors.
We were reminded again when Eastwood received two Academy Award nominations – best director and best motion picture -- for his behind-the-scenes work in his latest film, "Mystic River."
He had already won Oscars in both of those categories in 1992 for "Unforgiven."
After half-a-century in the movie business, it's difficult to think of an honor he hasn't received. And as Correspondent Steve Kroft has learned from profiling him twice - first in 1997 and again last January - the most surprising thing about Eastwood is that he keeps improving with age.
"I think you have to enjoy getting older. That's the most important factor. If you sit around and think, 'Well, at 21, I was doing this,' or 'at 31'--or what have you..." says Eastwood.
"A lot of people maybe do their best work when they're 40 and then tail off. But I think that's a mental attitude. I've done my best work, I think, now."
He said that back in 1997. But, as it turns out, his best work was still ahead of him. Critics have hailed his new film - about three childhood friends from Boston whose lives are entangled in tragedy - as a masterpiece. The New York Times called it one of the best American films of the past 30 years.
"I remember having a phone conversation with you last spring. And I asked you what you were doing, and you said, 'I just finished this movie,'" Kroft tells Eastwood. "You told me it was this thing, 'Mystic River.' And I asked you how it went, and you said, 'Best thing I've ever done.'"
"I'm my own reviewer," says Eastwood, laughing. "I think it was as good -- I think it went together well. In other words, when you make a movie, there's only one person you really have to satisfy, and that's yourself. Did it come out like you intended? Did you accomplish your goal?"
Does he consider himself a better actor or director?
"I don't consider myself too much. I try to avoid that whenever possible," says Eastwood. "I think at this point in life, I'm probably a better director because I'm more interested in it."
He is totally laid back, and comfortable in his own weathered skin -- the kind of quiet self-confidence that only comes with 50 years of experience. There is nothing left to prove, and at 73, he says there is not much anyone can do to him.
In an age of overindulgence, he is a study in efficiency, consistently bringing his films in ahead of schedule and under budget.
On the set, he doesn't believe in raising his voice, even to get the cameras rolling.
"Movie sets are constructed to put the actor in the most stressful situation that they possible can. It's like, 'Ready! Quiet!'... And these people are screaming, you know, 'Rolling! Speed! Marker,'" says actor Kevin Bacon, who worked for Eastwood on "Mystic River." "Now, as an actor, at this point, you feel like you're about to jump out of an airplane. So Clint, I think, really understands that."
Actor Sean Penn, who received an Oscar nomination for best actor for his role in "Mystic River," calls Eastwood "the one American icon that does not disappoint."
There are dimensions to the man not evident in the screen roles he has chosen for himself. Besides acting, directing and producing, Eastwood is also a musician who has composed the themes to nine of his films.
"I just kind of started jotting down things, and then eventually, I'd get an idea on the way to location," says Eastwood, while playing the piano. "It [music] can set the tone, set the mood. It can have a melancholy thing. Or it can have drama, a dramatic feel. It can set the tone, like the tune to 'Mystic River' can be kind of a melancholy thing. You can kind of make it as dramatic or whatever you want.
There is a sensitivity to him missing from the cold-blooded Harry Callahan he played in the "Dirty Harry" movies. Also, there is no sign of the tough ruthless stranger that shaped his screen persona in the early spaghetti westerns.
But he can still, when required, call up that cold, silent stare of intimidation, as 60 Minutes found out back in 1997 when Kroft asked a question him about his personal life.
Kroft: One of the things that I learned in doing the research for this story was the fact that you've got lots of kids.
Eastwood: Yeah. I have-- I like kids a lot.
Kroft: How many do you have?
Eastwood: I have a few.
Kroft: Seven kids with five women, right? Not all of whom you were married to.
Kroft: You would agree that this was somewhat unconventional?
Eastwood: Yes. It's unconventional, yeah.
Kroft: But how would you describe your relationship with those kids? Are you in touch with all of them? Do you know...
Eastwood: I'm in touch with all of them.
Obviously, it was not a subject he wanted to talk about.
Kroft: When I ask the question about the family, I have to tell you, that is a pretty awesome expression you have right now.
Kroft: I don't think I've had anybody look at me like that before. It's a real Clint Eastwood look. It's intimidating. You let me know, 'Approach with caution.'
Eastwood: Well, 'cause I - you - they're - there are other people that are involved there and they're vulnerable people. I can protect myself, but they can't.
At the time, his youngest was still a baby -- Morgan, a daughter with his second wife, Dina Ruiz, who told us most people would be surprised by her husband's shyness, modesty and kindness.
"I realized what a good actor he was after hanging out with him for a year or two. I thought, 'You are nothing like any of your movies,'" says Ruiz. "He's nothing - zilch, zero. ... The closest character I've seen him play is Robert Kincaid in 'Bridges of Madison County' – the loving guy who shreds the carrots for dinner and does the dishes and says, 'Can I get you anything?' and 'Wanna dance in the living room?' That's Clint."
They met in 1992 when she interviewed him for the local news. They began going out a year later. She was 28; he was 63. Although at the time, Eastwood admits he acted more like a teenager.
"She would get off late, so I'd say, 'Well, I'll meet you at 12:30. I'll meet you for a beer or something.' And so, we just kinda got to know each other that way," says Eastwood. "Later on, when we became close, I'd have to, in order to go out on a date, I'd go to bed at 10:00 and then set the alarm, get back up again."
They have been together now for almost 12 years. Morgan is a precocious 7-year-old, and Dina is the woman who brings order to his life.
Has he changed much since we did this last interview?
"He still is funny, kind, calm, smart, engaging, cute. He's all that stuff still. He's only changed for the better," says Ruiz.
His other love is California's Monterey peninsula, which has been home for most of his life. In 1997, he gave 60 Minutes a helicopter tour. He's been a licensed pilot for more than 30 years, and he pointed out what was then his latest project -- a golf course he was building on a mountaintop outside Carmel called Tehama.
It's all finished now, and it's where you can find him many afternoons, working on a game he finds impossible to master. He says this is all part of the attraction, especially on a golf course he directed and produced.
How much money did he spend developing it? Was it, as Kroft puts it, "a big budget or a small budget movie?"
"It's a fairly large budget movie, but it's permanent. It's a permanent movie," says Eastwood.
He also owns a patch of the sport's most hallowed ground, the Pebble Beach Golf Resort, joining a group of investors who paid more than $800 million to buy it from a Japanese consortium.
Surrounded by his passions, enjoying his family and still making movies that build on his legacy, Eastwood, at 73, says life is getting better all the time.
"I've got Dina Ruiz as my lady in command. She's one of the greatest things that ever happened to me," says Eastwood. "I get to play golf with people like yourself who come to town and go out and enjoy an outing at golf. It's nice."
Is this the happiest he's ever been?
"Yeah," says Eastwood. "Without a doubt."
And he shows no signs of slowing down. Just last week, Eastwood finished directing himself in a film called "Million Dollar Baby," with Morgan Freeman and Hillary Swank, due in theaters this fall.
Next up: He's directing a Steven Speilberg-produced World War II epic about the battle of Iwo Jima.
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.