04/21/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
With his elegant style, maintained despite flexing his considerable acting muscle in some pretty gritty roles, Morgan Freeman, 63, has been compared to Fred Astaire, who was a notorious disciplinarian. So what is it like for younger actors to work with so strong, if graceful, a presence? At a recent press gathering to promote his latest release, "Along Came a Spider," a prequel to 1997's "Kiss the Girls" (and, like the earlier movie, based on a novel by James Patterson), Freeman –- tongue firmly planted in cheek -- told PEOPLE: "The first thing I tell them is, never touch me. The second is, when I am talking don't talk. The third is, 'Don't be late to the set.' " In truth, said Freeman, "I don't tell them anything. This is something you have to live with. It is just another facet of having any kind of reputation. It goes before you and colors everything until people meet you. I am just a working stiff. I am not anybody's anything."