TAGS: darna, jane de leon, starstudio

Photography: Stephen Capuchino

 

Before Jane de Leon became the breakout star we know today, she was Jane Florence Benitez de Leon, the young, bright-eyed dreamer from San Pedro, Laguna, who had no plans of joining the show business.

Alam ko kasi kapag nasa showbiz, masa-sacrifice ‘yung studies ko,” says Jane, who, instead, began working as a teenage model. “Nag-start ako mag-modeling, kasi kahit papaano I can still do my school. After that, may lumapit sa 'kin to do commercials.”

As a television commercial model, her first-ever TV appearance was an advertisement for a local snack brand in 2014. She also later starred in a commercial with Daniel Padilla for a renowned fast-food chain.

After a short modeling stint, Jane formally entered the business under the wings of Tyrone Escalante, a talent manager known for handling showbiz newcomers, in 2014. “Siya yung naka-discover sa ‘kin and convinced me to enter showbiz and I tried dahil hilig kong magperform. Why not, ‘di ba? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

 

GIRLTRENDS

It wasn’t until she joined Star Magic in 2015, however, that Jane was given a break in showbiz. 

In February 2016, Jane was introduced as one of the members of GirlTrends, an all-girl group launched by ABS-CBN noontime show It’s Showtime as the distaff counterpart of the Hashtags, alongside the likes of Loisa Andalio, Maris Racal, and Barbie Imperial.

Photo from Rodel Brinas on Instagram

“So, lahat kami, nag-audition for this girl group. It's more on dancing, at 'yun ang first regular noontime show ko. I’m happy na nakapasok ako sa Showtime,” she said.

Jane was part of the group for a year before she decided to focus on her acting career.  

Mahal ko ‘yung Girltrends, pero mas gusto ko rin na mag-explore at mag-grow as an individual artist."

At that time, Jane has already starred in a couple of television shows—including Wansapanataym, Maalaala Mo Kaya, Ipaglaban Mo, La Luna Sangre—and films such as Ex With Benefits, The Debutantes, and Jose Bartolome: Guro.

Photos from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

 

HALIK

Jane’s biggest showbiz break came after her short stint in Now United Boot Camp in the U.S. in 2018.

Now United is a global pop music group formed by the creator of American Idol and former manager of the Spice Girls, Simon Fuller. Among the thousand hopefuls who auditioned, Jane was one of the Star Magic artists—along with Bailey May, Ylona Garcia, and AC Bonifacio—who made the cut because of her promising talent and strong online presence. 

“I [was in] Los Angeles, California for Now United Boot Camp. Then, my handler called me for this project, and I had no idea,” she says. Shortly after landing in the Philippines, she was called to do a photo shoot for a new show, Halik. “There I met the cast and the production team of Direk Ruel Bayani’s unit. Doon nila sinabi sa ‘kin ‘yung character ko as Maggie [Bartolome], sister of Jericho Rosales. After three months, nag-taping na kami.”

As Maggie, Jane was able to showcase her impressive acting versatility and brilliance. Who can ever forget her heated scene against Yam Concepcion’s feisty Jade? “The way na mag-prepare ako para sa role ko, siyempre, kailangan kong yakapin ‘yung character. Kailangan kong yakapin si Maggie at ‘yung background story talaga niya and family niya,” shares Jane, when asked how she prepares for a character, particularly when shooting a heavily dramatic scene. “Hindi [lang] naman sa ‘pagyakap ng character ko, kailangan ko ring yakapin ‘yung character ng ibang cast sa Halik. Para kapag umaarte na kami, madali na lang siya, organic na lumalabas sa screen.”

Photo from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

Sharing the screen with some of the best actors and actresses in local showbiz in the show had been both a humbling and character-building experience for Jane. “Napaka-respetado at napaka-humble nilang artista. They know kung ano talaga 'yung ginagawa nila and napaka-professional nila. Lagi nila kaming gina-guide bilang mga baguhan sa industriya,” she says.

Understandably, she was particularly awe-struck by Jericho Rosales, who stars as her on-screen kuya. “First taping day, sabi ko, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Kasi first regular show ko ‘to, so siyempre, nakaka-starstruck, lalo na si Kuya Echo,” she gushes. “Hindi ko makakalimutan ‘yung first scene ko sa kanya. Naging honest naman ako at kahit 'yung ibang cast na-starstruck rin sa kanya."

Photo from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

Even after Halik went off-air last April, following a successful run of eight months, Jane shares that she and her co-stars still keep in touch with each other. “Family kami,” she says. “Kahit ngayong tapos na yungHalik’, mayroon pa rin kaming communication.”

Photo from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

For a novice actress, Jane still has a lot of dream roles on her list—one of which is to portray a psychopath or a character with split personalities. “Gusto kong ma-try because it's challenging for me,” she says. This isn’t surprising, given that she idolizes Tinseltown’s Johnny Depp, who is known for his impressively outrageous and bizarre performances. “Kahit noong pumunta ako ng Los Angeles, doon sa Walk of Fame, siya lang talaga 'yung hinanap ko doon. Super idol ko si Johnny Depp,” gushes Jane. “Mahal niya 'yung craft niya sa acting. Napaka-passionate niyang tao.”

Also on her list is Tomb Raider and Maleficent star Angelina Jolie. “Same din sila. That's why kinilig ako noong napanood ko silang dalawa sa 'The Tourist.' 'Yung dalawang favorites ko nagsama sa screen and sana ma-meet ko sila soon.”

Locally, she looks up to none other than John Lloyd Cruz. Of the award-winning actor, she says “Iba siya umarte. I wanna work with him too.”

Maybe in the future, as Jane had another calling—one that doesn’t involve heavy drama that JLC is known for, but rather: action.


DARNA

In July, news broke that Jane had been cast as Darna in Star Cinema’s upcoming film reprisal about the most iconic heroine in Filipino comic and movie history. 

She bested almost 300 other aspirants for the role, which opened after Liza Soberano backed out from the project due to a finger injury. 

Photo from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

But did you know that Jane actually auditioned for the role of Darna’s villain? “Actually, my manager told me to audition for the project. At first, I really had no idea that it's for Darna. Nag-audition ako for the villain role and I just did my best nu'ng audition,” she reveals. “Ayoko kasi talagang nage-expect, I just let God lang and trust Him.” 

It was director Jerrold Tarog who convinced her to try out for the title role, which was a wise decision, as Jane turned out to be a perfect fit for the kind of Darna Star Cinema wants to reintroduce to the generation, according to ABS-CBN Films consultant Malou Santos. “When we got to talk to her and interview her, I saw that some of her values reflect those of Darna also. Aside from her looks and acting potential, her passion and enthusiasm was very high when the possibility of her playing the role opened up for her. Now that she is doing it, I will always remember that moment when she committed her entire being to the character and project. She embraced it 100 percent.”

Photo from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

Recalling one of the biggest days of her career, Jane shares: “Nung time na in-announce na nila, noong sinabi sa akin ng mga executives na ako 'yung magpe-play ng character ni Darna, una akala ko nagjo-joke sila, eh. ‘Yung reaction ko was, ‘Are you serious? Totoo po ba 'to?’ Una talaga, shocked pa ako. Hindi pa siya nagsi-sink in sa akin kasi siyempre, overwhelmed, happy. Pero after no’n... parang kay Maggie, unti-unti kong niyayakap si Darna.” 

To follow in the footsteps of former Darnas such as Vilma Santos, Anjanette Abayari, and Angel Locsin is a big honor for Jane, who says she’s very open to working with her predecessors in the near future. “Honored ako na mapahanay sa kanila at sana makatrabaho ko rin sila. Happy rin ako na nagtiwala sila [management] sa akin.”

Asked of her favorite Darna, Jane quickly answers “ate Angel”, whose millennial take on the iconic superheroine she grew up watching. “I remember I was in Grade one, nakwento ko rin sa mga bosses ‘yun, na bumibili ako nung parang koronang papel sa palengke na tagti-three pesos… kasi siyempre bawal mga laruan sa school ‘di ba? Kapag break time namin, susuotin ko ‘yun sa ulo ko and sabi ko, ‘I'm Darna!’”

Following her announcement as Darna, Jane immediately underwent physical training (“Kailangan ko talagang paghandaan kasi nga madugo ‘to,” she shares). Her fitness regimen of choice is weightlifting, as she needs to put on more weight and get toned. She goes to the gym five times a week and trains under celebrity fitness coach, Culver Padilla. 

“At first, it was really hard talaga. Sobrang mahirap and lalo na maninibago 'yung body mo, eh, so dapat i-adapt siya paunti-unti. But right now naman, nagiging okay na. Hinahanap na siya ng body ko,” says Jane, who shares that she has always been physically active even before she became Darna. “Yes, lalo na kapag may free time ako kahit twice a day I go to the gym."

Jane’s physical progress couldn’t have been more evident in recent photos of her in the annual Red Charity Gala and Star Magic’s Black Magic Halloween Party, for which she earned raves from her growing number of fans over her apparently trimmed physique.

Photo from Star Magic on Instagram (@starmagicphils)

Photos from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

Her daring Lara Croft Halloween look even landed her a spot in HypeBae, an international digital magazine from Hong Kong, as one of their 15 Best Halloween Costume Ideas, alongside that of the likes of Hollywood stars Jennifer Lopez, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Kourtney Kardashian.

Photo from Jane de Leon on Instagram (@imjanedeleon)

But it doesn’t end at physical training. Right now, the actress is also already preparing to get in character for Darna, as well as her mortal alter-ego, Narda. Jane shares she relates to both characters. “Si Narda kasi, she's the kind of person na napaka-simple. She’s fragile like me rin. Mahal niya ‘yung mga tao sa paligid niya. Kay Darna naman, she's a tough person and she’ll do everything for her loved ones, for the people. Lagi niyang inuuna ‘yung ibang tao bago 'yung sarili niya, mayroon siyang puso at may takot siya sa Diyos, which I think pareho kami.”

And Jane has proved she doesn’t need a cape nor a steel bodice armor to serve and be one with the people. In October, the actress participated in the Kapamilya Love Weekend by helping in the medical and dental mission as she sought to give back to the community of Brgy. Canlubang, Calamba in her hometown, Laguna.

Like all superheroes, Jane, too, has a soft spot for kids, which she showed when she took time out of her busy schedule to surprise a young girl dressed up as Darna at a children’s Halloween party held in the ABS-CBN compound over the weekend. 

Photo from PUSH

On what she plans to bring to the table as the new superhero, Jane says fans can expect a “young and modern” take on Darna.

That she has to meet—and exceed—certain expectations as the new Darna is not lost on Jane, who admits to already feeling the pressure. “Siyempre hindi ko naman maiiwasan na kabahan, at ma-pressure din. Iba rin kasi yung expectation ng mga tao, kahit sino namang andito sa posisyon ko,” she says. “Pero ibibigay ko ‘yung best ko.”

Despite the high pressure of her new role, however, Jane has a strong system of support to draw inspiration and motivation from, among which is her ever-supportive mother, Hearty, who she’s proud to say is her hero. “Kung alam niyo lang talaga ‘yung story ng nanay ko. Napaka-strong niya at kinakaya niya lahat kasi kahit may sakit siya sa puso, and nag-undergo ng mga surgery.. It's a miracle na ngayon kasama ko pa rin siya. Sa kanya ako humuhugot ng lakas. That's why for me, she's my hero.”

This, then begs the question: For Jane, what makes or defines a superhero?

Kailangan pure ‘yung heart mo talaga. That’s it.”

 

Art Director: Alfred Amado

Styling: Cathleen Sobrevega

Makeup: Denise Go Ochoa

Hair: Jaymar Lahaylahay

Styling Assistant: Riri Reverano

Photographer’s Assistant: Miggy Broño

Editorial Assistant: Sheena Pangco

Special thanks: Hearty de Leon, Francis de Leon, and Star Magic