Is J.Lo and Ben's love real?
Is Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's fairytale romance a sham cooked up by Hollywood executives to boost their careers?
This is the question on the lips of top gossip columnists in the US. It's also a charge held by some of Ben's associates, who say he never intended to marry J.Lo and will walk away from the "relationship" once their two upcoming movies, in which they co-star, come out next year.
"If the movies do well he and J.Lo could hit the jackpot because they are on a percentage deal," reveals Judd Byron, who met Ben in the rehab centre Promises and has since become one of the star's closest confidantes. "Ben's told J.Lo once these movies are wrapped, he's planning on dating up a storm."
At a reunion party for patients earlier this month, Judd asked Ben if "he was inviting all his buddies to the wedding?" He was stunned to be told there would be no walk down the aisle, despite J.Lo sporting a diamond ring on her wedding finger and leaked reports that plans have been made for a lavish ceremony on Valentine's Day next year.
"Ben actually told me he has been inundated with calls from family and friends about the so-called marriage, and he's fed up with the whole charade. He says he likes J.Lo, she's a cute kid, but he's not in love with her, or anyone else," adds Judd.
Respected gossip columnist Liz Smith of the New York Post has also added fuel to the fire. "Quicker than one can say, 'La publicite!' Jennifer and Ben were joined at the hipbones.
"They are paired in two yet-to-be-released movies and there is more than just a whiff of promotion and hype surrounding them," says the writer, who first broke the "romance". But she also adds she isn't ruling out the possibility they are actually in love.
So was this a publicity stunt from the start? It appears no coincidence the pair first got together just as they finished the movie Gigli and were about to start work on Jersey Girl, which they are currently filming.
Their love affair has taken up countless newspaper and magazine inches, and has guaranteed their faces have been on scores of covers. Whereas most high profile couples do all they can to keep their romance out of the public eye, Ben and J.Lo seemed to do anything but.
Shortly after shooting on Gigli wrapped in March, Ben took out an advert in The Hollywood Reporter praising the singer-actress. "You have shown dedication, diligence, humility, graciousness of spirit, beauty in courage, empathy, astonishing talent, real poise and true grace. It's been nothing but an honour and a pleasure to work with you. I only wish I were lucky enough to be in all your movies," he gushingly wrote. The romance went public in July after J.Lo, 32, announced she was divorcing dancer Cris Judd. Some have suggested she only married Cris for damage repair when her romance with P. Diddy created headlines for all the wrong reasons, and ended soon after he was arrested over a shoot up in a New York nightclub. Cris was the perfect antidote - handsome, available and trouble-free.
In early August exclusive pics of her and Ben looking cosy in public appeared in gossip magazine Us Weekly. The intimate moments screamed "set-up" it's a move often practised by publicists to get their clients in the press. A quick call to a photographer alerting the location of the star and the result - front page coverage and the celeb's status moves up a notch.
Agents and publicists are concerned with one thing only making their client the biggest name in the business. Box office success is crucial, and while both Ben and J.Lo are high profile, their takings have been average. Ben's blockbuster Pearl Harbour was a critical and box office disaster, while J Lo's horror flick The Cell was far from a hit. Her romance Angel Eyes didn't perform well either.
It made perfect sense for studio bosses to bring the pair together in reel life as well as real life. As well as guaranteeing tons of extra free publicity, they no doubt hope audiences will flock to the cinema in the hope of seeing the sizzling chemistry they have read so much about.
US magazine The Star reported how Ben stood up at J.Lo's 32nd birthday party to tell the crowd how deeply he'd fallen in love. Another week and more pics of the couple emerged. This time they just happened to be driving down an LA street in a convertible with the top pulled down. At the same time they just happened to be reading about themselves in Us Weekly and provided the "lucky" snapper with a pic of them kissing. Moments like these rarely happen unless they're choreographed.
More recently J.Lo appeared on radio wearing a pink diamond ring on her wedding finger. She refused to deny or confirm rumours she and Ben were engaged, coyly replying: "You make me blush when you ask these questions."
But even the New York Post has reported cracks appearing in the relationship facade. "Insiders refute marriage rumours," it says. "They torpedo all possibilities with phrases like, 'Great publicity.' They whisper things like, 'Please they're together in one movie which is opening and there's another after that so please."
It's a view upheld by Mickey Downs, who helps Ben's dad Tim run a rehab centre. "The truth of the matter is that there is no real romance. Ben feels good about the movies they're working on. He also feels bad fans are being misled.
"Yes, he has taken her to dinner a few times," he says. "But apparently there was intense pressure from the studio for them to be seen as very cosy.
"Once the studios saw they looked reasonably hot together, they encouraged the pair of them to hang out, and J.Lo loved the idea," he adds.
And with two actors at the helm, it's no wonder their love looks so genuine.
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