Neil Drumming
November 24, 2006 AT 05:00 AM EST

Everybody has an off day at work, but when you’re starring in your first major feature film — directed by Steven Spielberg, no less — not being in the zone can seem catastrophic. Fortunately for Djimon Hounsou, when he suffered such a crisis shooting 1997’s Amistad, Morgan Freeman was on hand. On his second day on the set, the 42-year-old actor recalls, ”I was just numb that day for some reason. I walked over to Morgan and said, ‘Hypothetically, as you’re working, do you sometimes not feel anything?’ He turned to me and said, ‘Some days you feel very connected and on point with every aspect of your character. Other days, it’s just nonexistent. But that’s part of the character and part of you. Don’t stress about it. Stay with the moment.”’ Hounsou has let that Zenlike advice guide him through a wide range of films, from Gladiator to In America, for which he received an Oscar nomination in 2004. (Hounsou has two movies out this December: Eragon and Blood Diamond.) Though Freeman hasn’t worked with Hounsou since Amistad, the Oscar-winning star of Million Dollar Baby says the ”bond still holds” between them. ”He’s not just another pretty face,” says Freeman, 69, of the former model. ”He’s paid some serious dues. I was looking at him the other day — he had this beard. It’s gray. I said, ‘Djimon, what are you doing?”’ Perhaps he’s just looking for another way to emulate his mentor.

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