The Face of 2020

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
The Face of 2020
Jane de Leon is ready to soar as the new Darna, shown with her face superimposed on the body of Marian Rivera, one of her two favorite Darnas (including Angel Locsin)

Ding, ang bato!

Jane de Leon had to learn how to deliver that iconic three-word line with urgency as part of her training as the newest Darna in yet another remake of the well-loved movie about the superwoman created by Mars Ravelo, originated by Rosa del Rosario and replayed through the decades by, among others, Eva Montes, Liza Moreno, Vilma Santos, Nanette Medved, Anjanette Abayari, Angel Locsin (on TV) and Marian Rivera (also on TV).

This time around, the task of “reviving” Darna is in the hands of Jerrold Tarog (Heneral Luna, Goyo ang Batang Heneral, etc.), taking over from Erik Matti who quit halfway through the long-drawn preparation for the reportedly “big-budgeted” Star Cinema project…to the tune of a hundred-plus million? It’s interesting to see how Jerrold will “update/upgrade” Darna in this era of superhero flicks churned out by Hollywood with heady regularity, sometimes bringing together superheroes and, one time, casting former Miss Israel Gal Gadot solo in the revival of Wonder Woman (a huge hit).

Like Jerrold, Jane is not the original choice. The first was Liza Soberano who begged off due to a damaged finger incurred during a shoot for the Kapamilya series Bagani, requiring surgery in New York. The search for the new Darna ended when Olive Lamasan, Star Cinema’s managing director for film, and Kapamilya resident director Lauren Dyogi, saw “something” in Jane when they saw her in the TV series Halik (playing Jericho Rosales’ sister). Eureka!

“Jane was the unanimous choice,” Olive told The STAR in July last year when the “precious find” was revealed. Actually, Jane was among the 13 “probables” presented to Olive and Lauren two years earlier by Star Magic head Johnny “Mr. M” Manahan, but it was only when she spotted Jane in Halik did Olive take a closer look.

Even Erik, who was eyeing Nadine Lustre as his Darna, conceded that Jane is a good choice. “She has a fresh face…”

That “fresh face” is The Face of 2020, made more refreshing by Dr. Vicki Belo who put her on giant billboards around the metropolis, prompting motorists and pedestrians to wonder who she is.

Until she was revealed as the new Darna, Jane had actually been around except that perhaps she remained “unnoticed” in the company of many other newcomers.

“From the start,” recalled Tyrone Escalante, Jane’s discoverer/manager who heads T.E.A.M. (Tyrone Escalante Artists Management), “I knew that Jane was headed for something big. She was just waiting for the right time, sa tamang panahon.” 

Jane told Conversations that she couldn’t believe she was “it,” asking herself, “Totoo ba ang narinig ko?” It took several weeks before things sank in. “Part of my growing up was watching Darna on TV, the series with Angel Locsin and then with Marian Rivera. I never thought I would be following in their footsteps.”

Jane Florence Benitez de Leon was born on Nov. 22, 1998, in San Pedro, Laguna. Her mom, Maricor Benitez, hails from Bohol. Her dad, Ruel Florencio de Leon, was a salesman who died when Jane and her only sibling were young.

“I would say that my childhood was happy even if we went through tough times,” confessed Jane. ”Marami kaming pinag-daanang mabibigat na crises. After my dad passed away, my mom lost her job so I became the breadwinner at an early age. My journey in showbiz was hard kasi kahit walang-wala kami, mom would find ways for us to show up in our appointments. Para makauwi, we had to borrow money for transportation…nakikipag-habulan ng bus at nalilipasan ng gutom kasi nagtitipid talaga kami, o kaya walang pangkain. But I never lost faith in God.”

Fate brought Jane in the path of talent manager Tyrone.

“Jane was referred to me by another aspiring talent,” related Tyrone who counts many other talents (among them Vance Larena and Kelvin Miranda). “I brought her to Eat, Bulaga but she missed the audition. While auditioning for a show of Edgar Mortiz, Jane was spotted by Mr. M who asked her to join a Star Magic workshop.”

From then on, Jane became a member of GirlTrends, a girl group featured in It’s Showtime, and auditioned abroad for Now United, a group being groomed by Simon Fuller, along with three other aspirants including Bailey May who got Fuller’s nod.

“She was patient,” continued Tyrone, “happy to be doing bit parts…as Derek Ramsay’s sister in the movie Ex With Benefits and in a flashback in the hit TV series Be Careful with My Heart. I brought her to Mother Lily who cast her in the films The Debutantes and Walwal. It was when she appeared in Halik that she began to be noticed.”

For months now, Jane has been training, starting with conditioning and then stunt routines under martial-arts experts from abroad. Anytime now, she will be fitted for the Darna costume and the start of the shoot is tentatively set for next month.

Incidentally, Jane is a Tiger. According to the Chinese astrology, Tigers (born in the years 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 and 2022) are “ brave, competitive, forceful, have a tendency to be selfish but overall are extremely generous, very intelligent, always on alert, very charming and well-liked by others.” (Other Tigers: Joaquin Phoenix, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Pattinson, Jim Carey, Karl Marx and Ludwig van Beethoven.)

(Postscript: As this story was being written, Jane texted this message: I wasn’t really able to celebrate Christmas because I was bedridden. My family was with me in my room all the while. Good thing, I was well enough to spend New Year with my family in Singapore. It was our first time to go abroad. My Christmas wish? Good health so that I can achieve my goals. And, of course, sana maging successful ang Darna project.)








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