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Interview: Ben Affleck - FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN... AGAIN?; Ben Affleck and the truth about his on-off affair with Gwyneth.

Byline: GILL PRINGLE

For two people who've been feted as Hollywood's "perfect couple" since they started dating a little over three years ago, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow certainly give new meaning to the phrase "just good friends". Their on-off romance is as mysterious as it is intriguing, fuelling rumours of secret assignations around the world.

They first met on the set of Shakespeare In Love and were an item by the autumn of 1997 but they officially split up as long ago as January '99. Perhaps they're both irresistible, because only last October they were photographed kissing and embracing in romantic Paris. Then weeks later, Gwyneth was in the arms of new love Chris Heinz, the heir to the pounds 450million baked beans fortune, and she was describing her feelings for Ben as merely "brotherly".

Ironically, now that they have definitely split up, they play a couple falling in love in Bounce. If you find all this bewildering - and who are we to speculate that Ben and Gwyneth's romance always seemed to be "on" when there's a new film to promote - spare a thought for the now- single Ben. It can't have been easy getting smoochy with his ex for Bounce, directed by Don Roos.

"Of course, I found the love scenes with Gwyneth awkward," he admits. "Don't you think you would have found it awkward? Making this film was difficult and challenging. It required another level of commitment and professionalism. I was proud that I was able to conduct myself like that. I'd probably not recommend it to anyone, but in my case it worked out well, although it wasn't easy.

"Fortunately, Gwyneth is very mature. She's not a vindictive person, and she's not bitter or spiteful. She's just got enormous depth of spirit and soul. Most people do not quite have the grace of spirit that she does."

Although Ben and Gwyneth, 27, were no longer an item while making Bounce, he reckons it gave the film extra, erm, bounce.

"There is a strange chemistry with somebody who you've been with. In a way it's even more electric than if you are together," he says. "Married couples see each other every day, that's why there's this old adage in Hollywood that you can never make a love story with a real married couple. I don't know why that is, but in my experience it was probably true."

At 28, Ben has notched up blockbusters including Armageddon and won an Oscar for co-scripting Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon. This year will be his most productive yet with a starring role in Pearl Harbour and five other titles all slated for a 2001 release. His star might be in the ascendant but his feet are firmly on the ground. In conversation he is frank and open, even when talking about private matters.

"I don't know what went wrong between us," he says. "I really don't. Friendship is the basis of a good relationship... But I can't really answer that. It's just too complicated and too personal - and she'd kill me if I said any more."

Their different backgrounds certainly didn't help. Manhattan aristocrat Gwyneth, friend to Madonna and Guy, is a Versace-clad health food and yoga enthusiast. Boston-born Affleck is more a Harley-riding, drinks-with- the-boys kind of bloke.

"The germ grass and meditation... that is not my thing," he smiles. "I'd say that we're not together because Gwyneth is much more evolved than I am. She is closer to inner-peace, whereas I have a very difficult time sitting still."

Does he really believe that a man and woman who have been intimate can be close friends without sex entering into it?

"We'll see... I hope it's possible," says Ben. "I don't see that much of her, to be honest. Yes, I did go to Paris with her, and that was great. And that was one day. It's not like we spend all our time together. It kind of looks that way if you see one photograph, but that's sort of misleading. If we can stay friends I'll be proud of myself. I don't know what's possible for a man, as you say. I'm just finding that all out."

As to the future, he's not about to make any predictions that Hollywood's most on-off relationship might ever be back on again.

"Gwyneth's an extraordinary woman but life is tricky and complicated," he concludes. "I don't have a set plan of like, `I'll do this, then that, then we'll get back together, and then I'll do this, and then we'll be friends'. I'm more of the school of thought that says you just take life as it comes."

CAPTION(S):

PARIS MATCH: As reported in The Mirror
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN LTD
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 19, 2001
Words:787
Previous Article:Profile: Gwyneth Paltrow - BUT SHE'S ENOUGH TO MAKE US WEEP; How a flood of tears dried up our love for Gwyneth Paltrow.
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