The youngest Darna opens up about her real feelings on the iconic role, what she thinks about naysayers and why she’s got what it takes for the long run.
In person Jane De Leon is smaller, slighter and, dare we say it, even lovelier than her photos suggest. She’s had a marathon week of shoots and interviews, the kind we see when stars are out promoting their movie. Except Darna, her controversial and highly anticipated movie is still months away from shooting. She’s kept a reasonably low profile since the announcement that she’d be taking on the coveted superhero role, but suddenly she’s here, there and everywhere. Everyone, it seems, can’t wait to see and get enough of her right here, right now.
The current Darna is nursing a cold. She was out until 2:00 AM the day before and instead of resting, she’s back on the makeup chair, getting made up to play the role of one of Gustav Klimt’s muses, wrapped in finery, alluring and larger-than-life. Against the gold background and donning stunning designer creations from the likes of Rajo Laurel and Pablo Cabahug, she’s a study of contrasts. Her makeup is stark, bare, innocent, while her hair is painstakingly coiffed, hanging in perfect waves. Her youthfulness shines through the sophisticated garb and setting; up close, the backlight gives her a halo of saintliness, the gold leaf adding a glow of otherworldliness.
But talking to Jane quickly brings one down to earth. She’s funny, self-deprecating and honestly, truthfully, innocent. She pauses before answering questions, carefully thinking them over. She starts her answers with the confidence of an experienced celebrity, but midway she’ll pause, her eyes searching for assurance that what she’s saying is right, that it all makes sense, because it’s certainly making sense in her head. Yes, she’s 21 years old, but unlike other women her age, it seems like she’s led a different life, one that has kept her away from the usual things that occupy most twentysomethings. To hear her tell her story, it appears as if she’s just been quietly working, not quite knowing where it all might lead, much like a farm child gathering firewood in a cave when all of a sudden, quite out of nowhere, she is touched by the divine and threatened with immortality.
“Let’s say I really don’t know kung ano yung mga qualities na nakita nila. I just did my best that time and yun,” she says, when asked about how she got the role of a lifetime. “I’m really happy na nag- tiwala sila na binigay sa akin, na may nakita silang potential. I[just] really didn’t expect this project—na nakuha ko siya.”
She’ll repeat this often during the interview. It’s a cliché in showbiz, as practiced as the art of singing and dancing on noontime shows, and for a while we begin to think Jane is using it as a crutch. But when the subject turns to the social media and how people were reacting the news about her being cast as Darna, the truth spills out: “She’s not deserving! She’s not pretty!” she recalls of the many, many comments. “Nag-pray ako na ‘Lord, bigyan niyo po ako ng big project,’ but hindi ko ine-expect na ito yung bibigay niya sa akin. So hindi i-ne-expect nga mga tao, at hindi ko rin po i-ne-expect ito!” she says with a laugh.
Yes, guys. She’s fully aware of your feelings about her. She’s aware of the photos being posted, of the news being spread, and the comments you’re all throwing out in World Wide Web. And like all women of her generation, a group that has grown up receiving unsolicited advice from complete strangers, she’s taking it all in stride. In fact, she’s embracing all of it, loving it even.
“It’s normal that I get pressured. Kahit sino naman na mapunta sa position ko, ‘di ba? Naging ready na ako mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” she says. “Lahat yan dapat balanced.
“Kahit papaano, yung expectation ng mga tao—they’re expecting too much from it [the movie] and especially sa akin. But we can’t please everybody, ‘di ba? I just need to give my best.” She goes on to add: “I’m happy naman na nandito yung mga tao nag su-suporta sa akin, may tiwala sa akin.” Jane credits her family, her management and God for keeping her on the straight and narrow. Again, that’s not new to the showbiz world, but Jane is really just keeping it real. When asked if there was a role that prepared her for Darna, she answers without a trace of sarcasm. “Feeling ko yung life ko. Hindi lang sa pag-au-audition ko or sa work—yung general talaga. Super ako nakaka-relate sa kanya. Yung time na sinabi sa akin na may audition ang Darna nag try talaga ako, nag-take ng risk.” Not many know this, but Jane actually auditioned for the role of the villain. So when she says she didn’t expect this, it’s not a humblebrag. When she says her life prepared her for the role of a strong woman fighting for good and justice and love, it’s not lip service. “Sa life ko din kasi I want to be tough, a strong person for my family. Isa din sa mga naging inspiration ko are my parents,” she says. Her voice suddenly cracks when she mentions her parents and she takes a few moments to compose herself. The pause hangs on for a split-second too long and we can feel her handlers about to step in when Jane gains a hold of herself. “Sobrang malakas talaga sila. Especially my mom kasi meron siyang mga health problems.” She barely finishes the sentences and lets it hang. We don’t press on. We get the idea.
It takes a while for Jane to settle into the role of a sensuous lady about town, bedecked in eye-wateringly expensive Cartier jewelry. She asks the brand representative about a diamond-studded rose gold Love Bangle and her eyes widen at the price and the fact that several are stacked on her arm. When we ask her after how she felt about wearing all the fine jewelry she goes on to say that she’s a fan of the brand, liking the timelessness of the designs and the craft that goes behind each piece. “I really love the Love Bracelets. It’s simple and elegant and I can pair it with something formal or casual.” The iconic bracelet was made to hug the wrist and opened only with a special screwdriver. It’s the kind of jewelry that is gifted during a golden moment in one’s life, and it’s fitting that Jane dons it at this stage in hers.
The famous superhero saying, “with great power comes great responsibility” rings quite true in Jane’s case as she prepares to don the famous headdress. “Lahat ng mga naging Darna may iba’t -iba mga qualities at klase ng stories na pinakita. I really appreciate that. Naging inspirasyon din sila para sa akin,” she says. Her turn as Darna reflects her age, younger than the other women who have portrayed her. This was intentional she says, as the people behind the movie wanted to highlight her growth and the importance of Narda, Darna’s human persona, in the story. This aspect is perhaps what appealed to Jane the most, apart from the physicality of the role (while she appears slender and delicate in her normal clothes, in the more skin-baring outfits one can easily see her toned musculature). This Darna will be set in the modern times, with technology and all the accoutrements that come with it playing a part. In this day and age, Jane is fully aware of how her role will affect the dreams of many children, young girls especially. This idea was key, not only in her desire to become Darna, but also how she will play it. “I want to represent girls talaga. Yung hindi pa talaga napapansin. Eh we’re always saying, ‘who run the world? Girls!’ pero kulang pa sa push. Sana maging inspiration rin sa mga kababaihan itong proyektong ito.”
By the time the shoot wraps up, it’s late again and Jane has another project to attend to right after. Despite the long day, she’s in good spirits. After all, it’s not everyday one gets to be on the cover of a magazine. This is just one of the firsts that she’s experiencing as she tackles this stage in in her career, in her eventual stardom. What we’re seeing here is a woman on the cusp of the rest of her life What started out as a slow unfolding is now heading to a frenzy. Jane de Leon may be young, she be innocent, but she’s also strong, ready and determined—she’s got what it takes.