Since 1979's "Breaking Away," Paul Dooley has been American cinema's favorite cranky-but-lovable dad. At the age of 71--and after 45 film and countless TV roles--he says he's segued into being a cranky-but-lovable granddad, but he's still got plenty of pop left in him as the tipsy father of Julia Roberts' titular "Runaway Bride" in the new romantic comedy directed by Garry Marshall.

LATE BLOOMER: "Got my first really decent part when I was 49. Spent the time before in New York being a stage actor. Got discovered by Robert Altman and did 'The Wedding' and then three or four other things for him. A year before, I'd thought, 'I might as well face it, I'm never going to be in the movies.' "

REPERTORY REPUTATION: "When I got the job with Altman, I said to a friend, 'If I don't do anything really wrong, I'll probably get to be in another Altman picture.' Said the same thing to my wife about Garry Marshall for ['Runaway Bride']. Hector Elizondo has been in everything he's done."

DIRECT ACTION: "Garry creates something on the set like what Altman does--wonderful sense of family on these films. Garry and Bob, their persona sets the tone for everyone."

STAGING GROUND: "Garry has his theater in Toluca Lake and it's a block from my house, so I'm there every week to attend readings and plays. He's usually in the lobby saying, 'Hello, thanks for coming.' I'm doing my first reading there on Aug. 13 of a play that Dan Castellaneta has written."

CREDIT DUE: "I've been hired for many father roles where the producers think they'll get the same performance as in 'Breaking Away.' But they don't realize you can't do it without that kind of writing. I'm the same actor, but the words have to be right."

PRO BONO: "I'm doing the Virginia Avenue Project which pairs up at-risk kids with actors [on short plays]. My wife and I wrote ours, and she's directing, and a 12-year-old is doing it with me. Done this for three years--a way of helping out."

BETTER HALF: "My wife, Winnie Holzman, created 'My So-Called Life.' She's now writing a movie for Ed Zwick to direct, and CBS is holding a spot for a drama of hers as possible midseason replacement."

ON DECK: "I'm in two films coming out that were big hits at Sundance--'Guinnevere,' which Audrey Wells wrote and directed; she was one of the writers on 'Runaway Bride.' And 'Happy, Texas,' which was a rare comedy at an independent film festival."

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