By Kim Farrell Sentinel staff writer


HANNAH & HAPKA— Mark Hapka, a 2000 graduate of Rome Free Academy, will star with Mylie Cyrus in Sunday's episode of the hit Disney show, "Hannah Montana." Hapka's career in movies and television has been growing steadily and he also recently appeared on the CBS drama, "Cold Case." Hannah Montana airs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, on the Disney Channel.

HANNAH'S BEAU — Mark Hapka appears with Mylie Cyrus, as Hannah Montana's pretend boyfriend, in Sunday's episode of the Disney Channel show.

A former Roman’s acting star is about to shine a little brighter.

Mark Hapka is a 2000 Rome Free Academy graduate who has landed many minor roles in his acting career in California. But his next TV appearance advances his career to a higher stage — and will make him especially popular with the younger set.

Hapka is playing the part of Hannah Montana’s "boyfriend" on the hit Disney Channel show airing Sunday at 7:30 p.m. It’s "Sweet Niblets!" for Hapka, as Hannah Montana would say.

In the episode, 16-year-old "Hannah," played by megastar Mylie Cyrus, pretends that a fellow celebrity "Austin Rain," played by Hapka, is her boyfriend, even though they can’t stand each other. But when she finds out that her brother is planning to cheat on a test, she feels that she must reveal the deception to prove that lying and cheating are wrong.

Hapka, the son and step son of Debbie and Gary Villa, 112 N. Jay St., and Robert and Amy Hapka, of Florida, said working with Cyrus was "a blast." "She is a sweet girl and fun to improv with," Hapka said.

Meanwhile, the young actor learned that "a half-hour Disney comedy is a whole other breed of acting. It reminds me of doing a play. It’s more animated and you have to learn to let go and have fun. I got to shoot the episode in front of a live audience which offers a great energy and also adds to the play-like feel I mentioned."

Last Sunday, friends in Rome may have also spotted Hapka in a guest spot on the show "Cold Case" on CBS. For those who missed it, the episode titled "Jackals" may be seen on the web site CBS.com

Hapka also had a recurring role in the on-line web series "Ghost Whisperer ­ The Other Side" and guest starred in the on-air version of "The Ghost Whisperer" starring Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Playing a younger character is not a problem for Hapka, who is 26. "My youthful appearance has allowed me to play a large range of ages in movies and on shows. I recently played as young as 15 on "Days of our Lives" and as old as 24 in the film I did called "Danny Mckay Project," where I played a young man fighting for his life as he dies of a terminal brain tumor. I fasted for 40 days while filming that movie losing 45 pounds in 40 days to appear as though my body was breaking down from the chemo. I looked sickly skinny from 199 in the beginning of the film down to 154 pounds and I’m 6 foot (tall)."

Hapka said he was bitten by the acting bug when he won the part of "Jafar" in a production of "Aladdin" in teacher Anthony Lanzi’s sixth grade class at DeWitt Clinton Elementary School. He also credits former RFA drama teacher Sara Landau with showing him all aspects of theater during his high school years.

After graduation, Hapka knew that he wanted to make acting his career and he headed to the West Coast. He has steadily built that career ever since, and currently has a slew of jobs in the works, in a variety of acting venues.

"The notorious Tribeca Film Festival announced they would be featuring the film I starred in called "Midgets Vs. Mascots." It’s a Shockumentary I filmed in Dallas, Texas, last year with a random cast including Gary Coleman, Ron Jeremy and Scottie Pippen. That was an experience like no other for me!" Hapka said. To find out more about the film, visit the web site www.MidgetsvsMascots.com

"I also did a High School Musical spoof that included the infamous Dennis Haskins, our very own Mr. Belding from "Saved by the Bell," which has been bought by MTV and a series is in the works," he said.

Hapka has also finished work on a few independent films, including a high school wrestling drama titled "Nearfall."

"As things get busier, I have to eventually make choices," Hapka said. "I am up for the role of Peter Parker/Spiderman on the new Broadway show titled "Spiderman-Turn out the Dark." It’s being directed by Julie Taymor (who also directed "Across the Universe") and the score was arranged by Bono and The Edge," Hapka said. Currently he has meetings set up in his pursuit of that role.

A role on Broadway would mean a move to the East Coast, however, and Hapka said he is not sure that is the direction he wants his career to go at this point.

"I’m not quite sure where my heart is with relocating back to New York and putting my film and TV career on hold just yet," he said. "Even though I know it will be huge and great for whomever books it. Don’t count me out just yet though."

With television roles his main focus, Hapka said that his life is very busy. "Right now it is pilot season and I have never worked harder on auditions and preparing. I work 15 hours a day going to appointments and preparing."

Some roles that may be in the future include one that Hapka could really sink his teeth into, or one that will stretch his comedic muscles. "I’m getting darn close to booking the new CW show "Vampire Diaries," Hapka said. "I hope all goes well. If that doesn’t work out I have a National Lampoon movie I will begin shooting in the next two months.