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Trained theater actor Anson Mount hesitated to audition for his breakthrough film role in the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads (2002), fearing that the project was too cheesy and mainstream. Yet, a little prodding from Spears fan Robert De Niro convinced him otherwise and the 29-year-old Mount was soon Americas newest teen heartthrob. Born Anson Adams Mount II in Prospect Heights, IL, Mount is the only child of former professional golfer Nancy Smith and late Playboy Magazine sports editor Anson Mount II. He grew up in White Bluff, TN, and attended Dickson County High School in nearby Dickson, where he landed his first acting role as a supporting player in a school play. After graduating in 1991, Mount enrolled at Tennessees University of the South, joined a fraternity, and dedicated himself to performance art and theater. He went on to earn a masters degree in fine arts and acting from Columbia University and then joined the New York City theater scene. Mount first made headlines in 1998, when he starred as Joshua, a gay character who represents a modern-day Jesus, in playwright Terrence McNallys controversial +Corpus Christi. Over 1,000 protesters representing religious groups turned out for the plays much-hyped opening performance, which then received scathing reviews from right-wing and left-wing newspapers alike.
In 1999, Mount made his television debut in a guest spot on Foxs Ally McBeal and then took a memorable turn in an episode of HBOs Sex in the City. The part led to a recurring role on the NBC drama Third Watch in 2000. That same year, he appeared on film in Boiler Room with Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Affleck, played the title role in Hillary Birminghams The Truth About Tully, and portrayed a driven student filmmaker in the sequel to Urban Legends, Urban Legends: Final Cut. After working on 2001s forgettable Poolhall Junkies with Chazz Palminteri and Rick Shroder, Mount earned a part in the star-studded City by the Sea, with Robert De Niro, Patti Lupone, James Franco, Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe, and Francis McDormand. Mount was on the set of City by the Sea, reading the screenplay to Tamra Davis Crossroads, when De Niro asked about the script. Mount explained that he was up for the part of Britney Spears love interest in the film, but he had doubts about the project. De Niro told Mount not to be foolish, and agreed to help the young actor rehearse by reading Spears lines. Mount landed the role, and even appeared in the pages of Teen and Seventeen magazines, but he did not allow himself to be pigeonholed as a mainstream actor: Around the time of Crossroads highly publicized opening, he sealed a deal to appear in a film to be directed by the notoriously unconventional Peter Greenaway.