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As a kid, Jensen Ackles used to poke fun at the “mushy” daytime dramas his mother regularly watched, but not anymore. Since last June, the Richardson native has starred on the hit NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives as Eric Brady, a mature-for-his-age teen who keeps his emotions bottled up. “He’s not bitter, but if anybody messes with him, he’ll be out to get ’em,” says Ackles, who turns twenty on March 1. Only four years ago the hazel-eyed blond was a sophomore at Richardson Berkner High School and a sometime model for Dallas department stores, but after he was discovered at a talent search, his stock soared. When he graduated in 1996, he moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a string of TV roles, including a recurring spot on the sitcom Mr. Rhodes. Now under contract for three years at Days, Ackles has the typically heady life of a Hollywood heartthrob (he was LeAnn Rimes’s escort to January’s American Music Awards), though he hasn’t left his home state behind. Texas flags hang inside his San Fernando Valley home, and he has a German shepherd–rottweiler mix named Dallas. “People here know I’m a Texan within the first five minutes of conversation,” he says. “My use of ‘y’all’ or ‘fixin’ to’ usually gives it away.”