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Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow deny relationship rumors

But they tell EW about their public smooch and how they changed the release date of ”Bounce”

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Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow
Paltrow and Affleck: Guy Aroch

If something about ”Bounce,” a romantic drama set during the aftermath of an airline tragedy, seems strangely familiar, consider the names of the headliners: Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow. Hey… weren’t they? Aren’t they…? What exactly IS the deal with those two? And wasn’t the movie, which opens Nov. 17, supposed to come out last summer?

For those of you who haven’t stood in a supermarket checkout line lately, Affleck himself — in this week’s Entertainment Weekly cover story — would like to explain: ”I can tell you unequivocally that Gwyneth and I are NOT going out. We’re not a COUPLE. We’re not an ITEM.” And don’t be fooled by the recent paparazzi shots that show him affectionately kissing and hugging Paltrow on the streets of Paris. ”I do love her very much and I care about her enormously, as that picture indicates,” he says, when shown the photos. ”But I hug a lot of people this way. Whether or not people believe that is up to them.”

For her part, Paltrow denies the relationship rumors, too. ”If we’re in the same city, we go out,” she says in the EW cover story. ”We’re close. Sometimes when I’m in L.A., I stay in his house. But it’s not what people think it is. We are NOT together. I swear on my LIFE. We’re NOT.” She does acknowledge, however, that their romantic history deepened their on screen dynamic. ”It’s really art imitating life,” she muses. ”Only without the happy ending in our case. But we have another kind of happy ending, which is that we have a friendship. I love his family, even more than I love him. So that’s a good thing.”

That friendship seemed to have made it easy for the couple to reteam in ”Bounce,” and to back each other up when they weren’t happy about one detail: the movie’s original release date. Miramax had planned to send ”Bounce” into theaters on July 7, the weekend following the releases of blockbusters ”The Patriot” and ”The Perfect Storm.” ”I’m too dumb to know what that meant,” says director Don Roos (”The Opposite of Sex”). ”I told Ben and Gwyneth, ‘And the good news is it’ll be out in the summer!’ And they went white. They were like, ‘Are you serious?’ They said, ‘Finish your meal. We’ll take care of this.”’

In addition to airing his beef with the powers that be, Affleck posted a March 12 rant against the release date on his website, which read in part, ”It appears that the burgeoning enthusiasm for the ‘commercial’ prospects for ‘Bounce’ have grabbed the hearts and minds of the folks at Miramax, grabbed the better part of valor by the throat and throttled him within an inch of his life.”

Miramax wasn’t amused. ”They were like, ‘Listen! Take that thing off your website, we’re not going to release it in the summer!”’ says Affleck. (”He can express his opinion,” Miramax production copresident Meryl Poster says of his tactics, ”but he doesn’t need to express it to the whole world.”) And voil√† ? ”Bounce” was moved to the fall.

For more about the making of ”Bounce” and the relationship between its stars — read the cover story in the Nov. 10 issue of Entertainment Weekly.