Brian Wimmer fell into acting. He had no desire to be a movie star . . . no aspirations to act, in fact. While still in high school he landed a job at Robert Redford's Sundance Resort and was happy to work as a ranch hand and live the life of a ski bum for the next 10 years.

But in 1983, Paramount Pictures came to Utah County to film a little musical called "Footloose," which would become an unexpected box-office hit the next year. Wimmer saw the film as an opportunity to earn a few extra bucks and finagled his way into working with the crew.One day on the "Footloose" set, he was captured on film while a camera operator was adjusting a lens. That led to his being asked to take a small acting role, which grew as production continued. And though most of his footage wound up on the cutting-room floor, Wimmer had been bitten by the show-biz bug.

An amateur artist, Wimmer saw acting as another way to exercise his creative juices and decided to throw caution to the wind and pursue an acting career.

Now the Utah native is a veteran of the critically acclaimed TV series "China Beach" and has top billing in a major studio film that opens in 900 theaters around the country Friday, Sept. 20. It's called "Late for Dinner."

Not bad for a 31-year-old guy who's only been in show business for seven years. Oh, yes, and he now owns a home near Sundance - and still skis a lot.

"I've been very, very lucky," Wimmer says modestly. "I mean, in school (at Orem High School) I was a jock, one of those guys who'd never dream of taking drama. I thought actors were wimps. And now look at me."

Wimmer was in Salt Lake City last week doing interviews to promote "Late for Dinner," a light character drama with science-fiction overtones. The story begins in 1962, with two innocent young men on the run from a shooting. They stumble into a cryogenics experiment, are frozen for 29 years, then accidentally thaw out and head for home. The gimmick is that they don't know what's happened and are unprepared for the fact that they have not aged a bit, while all their relatives are 29 years older.

Gene Siskel gave the film a rave review on TV's "Siskel & Ebert" this past weekend. And the film's director, W.D. Richter, has said in interviews that Wimmer brings to mind one of the movies' great stars. "I was looking for a young Jimmy Stewart. I wanted someone who had vulnerability, and Brian has that."

Wimmer says he knew he'd be doing "Late for Dinner" as soon as he read the script, though his manager told him someone else was already being tested for the role. In fact, he was so sure, he did something he's never done before - he insisted that his manager arrange a meeting with the casting director anyway.

"I walked in and sat down and it just all came together. They actually brought the director up from a screen test - and after we talked some, he knew I was right for it, too.

"I just know this (character), I know these kind of people, everyday simple people living simple lives - but strong, moral people."

Wimmer says the film will be a hard sell because it has no stars and the science fiction elements are subtle. "It's a marketing nightmare. It's a character-driven story with no real hook, and it might be hard to get people into the theater.

"But once they're in the theater, people will love it because it's a film that really makes you feel good."

Wimmer says he had no "career plan" as such after his "Footloose" experience in 1983, but he went directly to Southern California and then New York to study acting. While studying he landed some small roles in small movies - "Under the Boardwalk," "Less Than Zero," and played a victim in "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Fred-dy's Revenge."

"I was barbecued by Freddy. That's a real ice-breaker with teenagers. Once you tell them you were killed in a `Freddy' film, they think that's great."

In 1988 Wimmer landed his first lead role in the TV movie "What Price Victory?" as an illiterate college football star. In retrospect, he's disappointed in the film but acknowledges that it led to his most important work prior to "Late for Dinner," the role of lifeguard-bartender "Boonie" in the highly praised Vietnam TV series "China Beach."

Wimmer played Boonie for 31/2 years. During the show's run the character had his leg amputated and went from someone with small-town values to an embittered veteran, allowing for some strong emoting. "It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much. That show was my real acting school."

Last year he was in the TV movie "The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid," starring Donna Mills, and then made "Late for Dinner."

Coming full circle to the days when he worked at the Sundance resort, Wimmer says he tried out for a part in Redford's latest film, which Redford is currently directing in Montana.

Wimmer didn't get the part but says, gesturing with his finger and thumb, "I came this close."

Though he could go back and do another television series immediately, Wimmer is hopeful that "Late for Dinner" will lead to a movie career.

If it does, maybe he'll land a role in Redford's next film.