Flying High: The Rise Of Jane De Leon As The Iconic Darna
The new-age Darna actress takes off for her biggest trip yet and soaks up her stone’s secret superpower—selflessness
Darna finally takes flight, and it is well worth the wait. While it may seem like a split-second leap to stardom, Jane De Leon’s meteoric rise from supporting roles to a titular superhero is a tour de force. The ascent didn’t happen overnight, as it took great talent, determination, and grit for this new-age Darna actress to best over 300 other brave souls who tried to fit into the iconic role. It’s no secret what this project has been through to materialize, but as with many things in life, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.
Fuel to the fire
Born Jane Florence Benitez De Leon to Ruel Florencio De Leon and Maricor Benitez-De Leon, this young star was born on November 22, 1998 in Metro Manila, but she was brought up in San Pedro, Laguna. She is the last-born in a lineup of six siblings. “I have one kuya with my mom, but with my papa, we’re all six,” she says.
Although Jane’s dad Ruel succumbed to lung cancer in 2016, the volume of advice that he was able to pass on to her never perished. Jane notes, “Sa parents ko, sobrang madami akong natutunan, pero ang hindi ko talaga makakalimutan, ’yung sinabi sa’kin ng dad ko and ng mom ko: ‘Be organized, [practice] time management, and use your money wisely.’”
Growing up with a family that supports her life-size dreams is what drove the would-be Darna to better fetch her goals. In her one-on-one interview with Metro.Style, she shares without second thoughts that her true superhero is her mother Hearty. “Actually, ang tumulong po talaga sa’kin sa pag-aartista ay si Mama, kasi nag-start po talaga ako sa modeling, and then commercial modeling. Si Mama po ’yung tumulong sa’kin since nu’ng nagsisimula ako.”
Baby steps and beginnings
Some may have a slim knowledge of how Jane De Leon landed an opportunity that was once far-fetched, but there is tenfold more to her showbiz journey than just a magical stone and a cult red costume. She watered her skills in workshops, and was eventually scouted. “Na-discover ako ng manager ko, si Kuya Tyronne Escalante. And then, dinala na niya ako sa ABS-CBN. Du’n ko na-meet si Mr. M [Johnny Manahan].”
Even as a beginner, Jane’s bankability as a star is an easy spot. She firs channeled her acting chops into anthology shows and television series. “Nag-start ako sa TV series—[pa-]extra-extra. Naranasan ko ’yun lahat—movies, MMK, Ipaglaban Mo, and Halik—du’n ako nag-start. After Halik, du’n ako na-discover mag-audition for Darna. And then, habang hinihintay namin ’yung Darna, nag-Probinsyano muna ako.”
Charming her way to the circuit of entertainment is all anchored to Jane’s kinetic efforts that kept her buoyed in the business. It was in July 2019 when she was first announced to have been chosen for the iconic and covetable role of Filipino fictional superhero Darna in a new adaptation—a life-changing and career-defining role for the 23-year-old actress.
And since this leading lady is taking on this modern-millennial Darna, it is surely an endorsement avalanche for the actress. As a part of this money-making industry, Jane identified her most-prized possession to date. She discloses, “’Yung van ko po. Isa sa achievement ko po ’yun, kasi nagsimula po talaga ko sa pag-aartista nang nagko-commute lang, kaya nakaka-proud. Especially ’yung mama ko, hindi na po siya nahihirapan.”
Talking about how her middle-class mother almost gambled on everything else to get her to the terrain of success, Jane recollects her memory and reminisces, “Galing kaming Laguna, so wala pa talaga kaming car, ganyan. Lagi kaming nagko-commute ng mom ko.”
Solid as a stone
Being at the center of one controversy after another is treated as a common career trajectory for budding stars who are likely to lead a life of superstardom, and Jane is no stranger to the pitfalls of showbiz.
With her ascent to the role of Darna, Jane was not spared from issues, and the naysayers are taking much of their time for a good social media squabble. Bashing and bickering is a game that they fall victims to, but well-versed at it all the same. Luckily, our superheroine knows how to segregate trash from treasure. In the face of cynicism, she remains her own rock and commits herself full-on to Darna. “Exercise, diet, and dapat hindi ka lang okay physically, but dapat okay ka rin mentally and emotionally,” Jane argues, proving that she is already ripe for the role.
Jane De Leon’s focus is hard to break, and her holistic approach to her celestial character adds up to the foundation of Darna’s persona. With her almost-perfect aura, the preparations that she is booked to do may seem thin on the surface, but the mere fact that she is career- and goal-oriented is proof that pausing is not in her radar now.
“Napaka-difficult kasi siyempre, I need to control myself. Disiplina talaga and sarili ko—kalaban ko mismo [’yung] sarili ko,” Jane points out when the topic of discipline popped up. “Pinakauna is pagkain. Number one ’yun—be disciplined. Number two, always trust God. Number three is you need to trust yourself that you can do it. Trust your instinct and pagkatiwalaan mo ’yung mga taong sumusuporta sa’yo, and always be humble, of course.” A testament to determination, Jane’s Darna might as well be just the start of her rise to the top.
Of selflessness and modern-day heroism
A Jane De Leon classic move is come-hell-or-high-water. The power that she wields is selflessness, and that is exactly how she can sympathize with Narda or Darna, whether in human guise or in the mold of a superhero. “Parehas kaming selfless. Inuuna namin lagi ’yung ibang tao bago po ’yung sarili namin. Mas inuuna namin ’yung mahal namin sa buhay.”
Superhero or not, “hardworking,” “caring,” and “lovable” are the words that Jane picked when she was asked about how family and friends paint her as a person. She shares, “Sinasabi nila mismo sa’kin na, ‘Alam mo, Jane, mahalin mo naman [’yung] sarili mo. Lagi mo na lang inuuna [’yung] ibang tao.”
When asked about what her idea of a superhero is, Jane insists, “For me talaga, it’s all about love and sacrifices. Kasi, parang general na [na] lahat, nandu’n na, e.” Armed with an affectionate and caring nature, Jane claims that a true superhero is tantamount to selflessness. A lionheart may be a leader, but it takes benevolence to be an actual and authentic hero. “Anyone can be a superhero, and you can be a superhero,” Jane affirms, addressing the common people.
A woman of many facets
A certified feline creature lover, Jane boasts how her lifestyle met its biggest makeover, too. “Mula nu’ng nagka-endorsements ako,” she laughs, “[nakakabili na ako ng] pagkain ng mga pusa.” Just like each and everyone, her joys in life are as simple as spending time with her cats and traveling. “I want to go to Iceland, London, and Switzerland! Gusto kong makasakay sa Orient Express.”
Admittedly a member of BTS’ Army, the Stonekeeper revealed what superpower she wishes to harness. “Gusto ko ’yung superpower ni Shadowcat—’yung tumatagos and nakakalipad and invisible para nakaka-sneak in ako sa mga eroplano. Makakapunta ako sa concert ng BTS,” she says in jest.
Apart from the activities that Jane mentioned, she is inclined to musical instruments as well as books. While the latest breed of talents of this generation looks up to Jane, she’s all praises to all the Darnas before her. “Lahat po sila, magagaling. Lahat po sila, na-portray po talaga nang sobrang maayos si Darna, but siyempre, [ang] tumatak sa’kin at kinalakihan ko, si Angel Locsin.” Angel, who was the prime choice to play the legendary role, had to drop out from the project for health purposes. She was slated to revive the role in 2015, but her spine problem hindered her from pushing through. Liza Soberano took her place thereon, but had to withdraw from work due to a finger fracture.
Jane was then unanimously selected and named as the newest Darna. On the opportunity to take on this role of a lifetime, she says, “Maraming salamat po sa pagtitiwala sa’kin, kasi alam kong mahabang-mahabang panahon po ang hinintay n’yo, pero ito na po, ipapalabas na po at lilipad na po si Darna.”
Mingling with fellow stars
Jane is not the only name that televiewers are electrified about in the upcoming Darna TV series. Talents Joshua Garcia and Janella Salvador are also much-awaited as they showcase their respective starring roles. As sought-after stars in the acting industry, the two are tasked to incarnate the characters of Brian and Valentina. Individually, Jane recalls how her relationship with her fellow actors fared. “First, with Joshua. Actually, nu’ng una talaga, awkward kami nitong taong ’to. Magiging honest na ’ko,” Jane confesses. “Wino-work out naman namin ’yun together, and the good thing with him naman is madali siyang ka-trabaho... May mga eksena kami na parang hindi na namin binabato ’yung mga linya, nagiging authentic na siya. And masaya siyang kasama.” Joshua Garcia, who is Jane’s romantic interest in the revival of Darna, personifies a policeman.
Another much-anticipated element in Darna is the comeback of Janella Salvador. More than being Darna’s nemesis, Valentina or Regina is brimming with mystery but with a modern and timely twist this time. She breathes life into the role of a lawyer, who also happens to be a vlogger. Contrary to the two’s colossal rivalry on screen, Jane and Janella are actually “sisters” in reality. Jane vouches, “With Janella Salvador—our Janella [or] Jea—she’s like my sister. Actually, sabi nga ng direktor namin, may chemistry kami. Baka kami daw [ang] magkatuluyan ni Valentina (laughs).” With a heartfelt appreciation for her co-actress, Jane adds, “Masaya siyang kasama and parang kapatid ko na rin ’yan—hindi lang on-cam but off-cam din.”
Soaring through the sky
“After a long, long time, magkakaroon ulit ng TV series—Darna by ABS-CBN. Ang atake namin [dito] is more on modern na siya,” Jane teases. Darna’s alter person, Narda, whose attempt at a normal and nuisance-free life failed, is being groomed to be the successor of the meteorite stonekeeper that is her mother (Leonor, portrayed by Iza Calzado). Narda is bound to fight her enemies and fend off evil machinations with or without magical warrant, and is en route to her eventual reign as Darna.
The contemporary heroine channels her physical strength even without the existence of the stone. She says, “Kailangan po talagang panoorin ’to ng ating mga Kapamilya at Kapatid, kasi marami talaga silang matututunan katulad ng pagsasakripisyo, pagmamahal hindi lang sa pamilya [kundi] sa kaibigan [at] pati na rin sa sarili mo.”
Sharing the screen with Jane is Zaijian Jaranilla, who is portraying the role of Darna’s younger brother, Ding. Seasoned actress and former Darna Rio Locsin is also a cast member in this upcoming series. The cast also includes Paolo Gumabao, Simon Ibarra, Young JV, Zeppi Borromeo, Marvin Yap, Yogo Singh, L.A. Santos, Joj Agpangan, Mark Manicad, Richard Quan, Dawn Chang, Viveika Ravanes, Eric Fructuoso, and Jeffrey Santos.
Airing this month, the Mars Ravelo comic book classic is now on television. It tells the tale of an ordinary woman who is ordered to save her planet from sinful criminals and hostile culprits both from Earth and beyond. Directed by master director Chito S. Roño with Avel Sunpongco and Benedict Mique, Darna will pilot on Philippine primetime on August 15, 2022 through the Kapamilya Channel, Kapamilya Online Live, TV5, Jeepney TV, A2Z, and iWantTFC. It is distributed by ABS-CBN Entertainment and produced by JRB Creative Production.
Jane’s pendulum swing from appearing in the primetime hit Halik to starring as the iconic comic book character, she believes, is an intentional brush with fate. “Everything has a reason. I tried. Nag-audition ako for this role. May tiwala ako kay Lord kung ano ’yung plan Niya—kung bakit Niya ako nilagay dito bilang si Darna.” With her chiseled face, iconic costume, and selflessness for a superpower, Jane De Leon is certain to catapult to higher altitudes. The heroine, after all, is destined to save the day.
Photography by Seven Barretto of Studio 7
Creative direction and set design by Erwin Botin
Sittings editors: Geolette Esguerra and Kate Paras-Santiago
Makeup by RB Chanco
Hairstyling by Valerie Corpuz
Styling by Cath Sobrevega, with associates Jem Arboleda, Charishka Mutya, and Krizia Sembrano
Shoot coordination by Red Dimaandal and Grace Libero-Cruz
Videography by Giancarlo Escamillas
Photography assistants: Gillian Claude Villahermosa and Dariel Miraflor
Special thanks to Star Magic, Lauren Dyogi, and JRB Creative Production