The curious case of ‘DonBelle’: A trending love team even before its launch

Miguel Dumaual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 30 2021 08:22 PM | Updated as of Mar 30 2021 08:52 PM

Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano will star in the Star Cinema series ‘He’s Into Her,’ directed by Chad Vidanes and based on the books by Maxine Lat. iWant TFC

MANILA — Even before the release of their project formally launching their pairing, Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano have somehow already courted a massive following online, with hashtags supportive of them frequently ranking atop trends on Twitter.

As love team progression usually goes, young stars are introduced as onscreen partners through a series or a movie, such as Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla in “Growing Up,” and Nadine Lustre and James Reid in “Diary ng Panget.” Their popularity in that initial project would determine if the tandem would be for the long haul. 

Enrique Gil, for instance, was paired with Julia Montes in “Muling Buksan ang Puso” and then Julia Barretto in “Mirabella,” but it wasn’t until “Forevermore” with Liza Soberano that he found an enduring love team (and real-life romance).

Prior to “Forevermore,” Gil and Soberano appeared in the KathNiel-starrer “Must Be Love” in cameo and supporting roles, respectively, that hinted at their own team-up.

Similarly, Pangilinan and Mariano were part of “James & Pat & Dave,” but weren’t the main romantic pairing featured in the 2020 film.

But whereas LizQuen scored a massive success with their “Forevermore” launch, the new tandem of DonBelle appears to be drawing early popularity ahead of their own major release, the upcoming Star Cinema series “He’s Into Her.”

Even Mariano, 18, was surprised with the online traction of her tandem with Pangilinan, 23, given their love team is untested.

Mariano did notice some amount of excitement with the prospect of DonBelle during the theatrical run of “James & Pat & Dave.” But what surprised Mariano was their snowballing fanbase following the announcement of their casting in “He’s Into Her” back in November 2019.

THEY’RE INTO THEM

When the series started filming, it became evident, at least to Mariano, that the project and her tandem with Pangilinan already had a solid following.

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“Merong mga naglalabas ng pictures namin. ‘Oh my gosh, trending tayo!’” she recalled in an interview with ABS-CBN News. “Nakakatuwa kasi in the process of shooting ‘He’s Into Her,’ grabe na ‘yung suporta nila sa amin.”

“Lagi kong nakikita sa Twitter na trending, [halimbawa] dahil may lumabas lang na picture. Sobrang nakakatuwa talaga. Nakakatuwa kasi ‘yung different fandoms, nag-uusap-usap sila kung ano ang gagamitin nating tagline ngayon,” she said.

Those different fandoms include Mariano's and Pangilinan’s separate, but now mostly connected, fan groups, as well as long-time readers of Lat and her Wattpad stories. Mariano is not oblivious to the prior popularity of “He’s Into Her” — a factor that’s seen to have bolstered DonBelle’s fan-driven visibility on social media.

The series centers on the headstrong Maxpein (Mariano), who makes a nemesis out of the school heartthrob Deib (Pangilinan). Their bickering, however, soon evolves into attraction, making “enemies turn into lovers,” Mariano said.

“Iyong unang pagkikita ni Max and Deib, iba ‘yung approach namin sa scene na ‘yun,” Mariano answered, when asked which part of the story she is most excited for fans to see, once the series premieres on iWant TFC. “Kailangan makita ‘yung spark, but then Max and Deib are not in good terms.”

The loud anticipation for their portrayals in “He’s Into Her” has been apparent for a while, that Mariano and Pangilinan agreed at one point to acknowledge a widely followed Twitter account mobilizing support for their love team.

“The both of us started following ‘yung official page naming pareho sa Twitter. Sabi niya (Pangilinan), ‘Uy, tara, Belle, follow natin ‘to. Sobrang supportive nila sa atin.’ Tapos iyon, finollow namin,” she recounted.

No stranger to the limelight — she started acting at age 9, notably as part of “Goin’ Bulilit” — Mariano finds herself taking in a fresh outpouring of support nearly a decade into her career. 

“Sobrang natutuwa, kasi ever since na sa ‘Bulilit’ pa lang ako, I love making people happy. Natutuwa ako na nagagawa naming dalawa iyon ni Donny. Now na hindi pa napapalabas ‘yung ‘He’s Into Her,’ sobrang gabi na ‘yung suporta nila sa amin,” she said.

‘WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO BE LIKE KATHNIEL?’

Mariano feels support not only from fans but also from her home network which has already green-lit more projects co-starring her and Pangilinan. Announced so far are a short film helmed by box-office director Cathy Garcia-Molina, a follow-up feature film, and a teleserye.

Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano pose for a photo during taping for the ABS-CBN concert variety show ‘ASAP Natin ‘To.’ Instagram: @darla

“I’m really grateful and I’m really thankful, kasi hindi pa nga nakikita ‘yung ‘He’s Into Her,’ hindi pa siya napapalabas, hindi pa nakikita ‘yung pairing ko with Donny, grabe na ‘yung suporta at tiwala sa amin nila Inang,” Mariano said, referring to ABS-CBN Films head Olivia Lamasan.

“Honestly, hindi ko in-expect na magkaka-love team ako, kasi I’m fine with either. Either with a love team or not. Right now, I’m just really happy with what’s going on sa career ko ngayon. And I’m just really grateful na ito ‘yung path ng career ko,” she said.

Mariano, who has witnessed the meteoric rise to stardom of fellow Star Magic artists Bernardo and Padilla as a love team, mentioned the real-life couple when asked what she hopes to accomplish with Pangilinan.

“Who wouldn’t want to be like KathNiel, right? Wala naman talagang makakapantay sa KathNiel, pero siyempre gusto ko [makasunod sa yapak] nila, kasi sobrang idol ko si Ate Kathryn,” she said.

But beyond DonBelle, Mariano is also hoping to be recognized as an individual actress who, in her words, is “driven” to prove she is deserving of the big opportunities now unfolding for her.

“Gusto ko ipakita ‘yung passion ko with what I do. I’m really passionate with acting… Naniniwala ako na hindi sa akin ibibigay ang isang bagay kung hindi ko kayang gawin,” she said.

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