Who suffers when celebs fall in love? Ben and J. Lo are the latest in a long line of Hollywood hookups. But do studios suffer in the stars' dating games?
Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez
Credit: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck: Peter Wintersteller/BEIImages.net

Ah, the hallmarks of new love. Romantic gestures (like a five-figure Harry Winston bracelet encrusted with yellow and white diamonds), leisurely drives (in a $350,000 silver Bentley Azure convertible), and languid kissy-poo under the late-summer moonlight (in a $75,000-per-weekend rental in a Hamptons resort community on Long Island). Oh wait — that’s only if you happen to be Hollywood’s celebrity couple du jour, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

And there’s a lot more than pricey baubles riding on this relationship. It’s unusual for two A-list stars to go so public after falling in love on the set — but that’s just what Affleck, 30, and Lopez, 32, did after meeting last winter while filming the Revolution-Sony crime drama ”Gigli” (for which he pocketed $12.5 million and she made $12 million). The pair are currently shooting Miramax’s romance ”Jersey Girl” in Philadelphia. That means there are not one, but two multimillion-dollar productions whose marketing campaigns may depend on the fate of the tabloid-perfect affair.

True, between-takes canoodling has been around as long as movies themselves. When Elizabeth Taylor hooked up with Richard Burton while filming 1963’s ”Cleopatra,” it caused an international scandale. But with Affleck and Lopez, the stakes seem even higher — especially since the Martin Brest-directed ”Gigli” isn’t scheduled for release till May, with ”Jersey Girl” to follow later in 2003.

So far, ”Jersey” helmer Kevin Smith seems pleased with the professional results. ”There’s something wonderful going on between them,” says Smith, an Affleck pal who’s directed him in four previous films. ”They can be intimate on screen more easily because they are in an actual relationship.” The couple is likely to generate loads of free publicity, too — as long as they last. ”An on-set romance is a big accelerator to any movie because people get a double feature,” says Mark Mathis, author of ”Feeding the Media Beast: An Easy Recipe for Great Publicity.” ”First, they get the emotional connection on the screen, but secondly, they [want to see if] the actors may unsuspectingly reveal some of their romance.”

But others see real danger for studios faced with marketing a film that may forever be linked to the fate of often fleeting Hollywood pairings. ”Not only do they have to sell a movie, they have to hope their stars stay together,” says film historian Pete Hammond, who says the advance buzz may end up hurting the films — especially if the butterflies don’t last through the first press junket. ”I guarantee you the J. Lo-Ben Affleck affair is not part of the studio’s marketing campaign on this film, and I think it’s an added problem.” (Revolution-Sony and Miramax declined to comment, as did reps for Affleck and Lopez.)

Audiences may respond differently, depending on the type of offscreen relationship. ”It’s only a problem if they’re married: Then there’s no tension, no heat, no nothing,” says one high-level studio exec. ”When they’re sleeping with each other and you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, that’s different. It’s a cool thing [that] could help with the publicity.”