DD Article from Entertainment Weekly

Tabloid sensation Ben Affleck talks about the frenzy over his relationship and whether he can turn a little-known superhero into a hit -- from Entertainment Weekly's Feb. 7, 2003, cover story by Steve Daly
As principal photography on ''Daredevil'' wound down last July, writer-director Mark Steven Johnson got up his nerve. He'd heard the speculation that Ben Affleck, with whom he'd been laboring to turn the comic-book tale of a blind, satanically costumed vigilante into a potential film franchise, was dating singer-actress-perfume mogul Jennifer Lopez. Affleck wasn't talking. But the story had just begun percolating in the media, and Johnson couldn't resist giving in to curiosity.

''The rumor was they'd [already] gotten engaged,'' says the filmmaker. ''So I e-mailed him and said, 'What's the deal? Are you or are you not?''' As Johnson remembers it, Affleck issued a noncommittal, tongue-in-cheek response: ''He wrote, 'Learn my s--- at the checkout counter like everybody else.'''

And who knew there'd be so much to learn? In the time it's taken ''Daredevil'' to speed through postproduction on its way to a Feb. 14 release, the 30-year-old Affleck has morphed from just another well-chronicled Hollywood actor into the paparazzi-bait main attraction of an information-age circus, lately dubbed The Bennifer Show by average folks who just can't get enough of it. ''It's staggering to me,'' says Affleck. ''I'm confounded by it. If ever the question has been explored of whether there's a limit to what people want to hear about a couple, we've explored it.''

The PDA-loving duo first met as costars last winter on ''Gigli'' (pronounced ''Jeely''), a Mob comedy directed by ''Scent of a Woman'''s Martin Brest that's not scheduled to reach theaters until August. After ''Daredevil'' wrapped, the couple played husband and wife in ''Jersey Girl,'' a portrait of parenthood written and directed by Kevin Smith that contractually cannot debut before ''Gigli'' (it's slotted for fall 2003). Meanwhile, myriad details of the pair's offscreen courtship -- the divorce petition that Lopez, 32, filed against second husband Cris Judd, the official announcement by Lopez of her engagement to Affleck, the ring, the lavish family gifts, the creepily voyeuristic ''Jenny From the Block'' music video in which Affleck caresses J. Lo's celebrated rump -- have played out like a whole new brand of reality entertainment. Call him ''The Ben-chelor.''

''No one can say I'm living an unexamined life,'' says Affleck, congenitally quick to deprecate himself. ''Of course, it may remain unexamined by me. But the tabloids have certainly examined it thoroughly.'' That they have, with headlines on the order of ''Ben & Jen Get Married!'' (They didn't -- it was just make-believe for ''Jersey Girl.'') And in December, People magazine, which had put Affleck's stint in alcohol-abuse rehab on its cover in August 2001, elected Affleck the ''Sexiest Man Alive.''

Will all this attention translate into ticket sales for ''Daredevil''? Affleck sees no connection, positing that the coverage ''has a lot to do with selling magazines and not with who goes to what movie.'' But director Johnson says ''there's no such thing as bad publicity. One of my Hispanic friends said to me recently that nobody really knew who [Ben] was in [his] community. Now, because of J. Lo, they all know him.''

Certainly the general public knows Affleck better than it knows Daredevil. Regency Enterprises and Twentieth Century Fox, the cofinancers of the movie, are counting on the Marvel Comics hero's superficial resemblance to Spider-Man -- another do-gooder in a tight red suit -- to help pique audiences' interest. But moviegoers may get a jolt when they discover what a dark, gritty tale of vigilante justice ''Daredevil'' is. In a sequence the director calls his favorite, Affleck's crime fighter pulls out loose teeth in the shower the morning after a brutal fight. Overall, the combat level was intense enough to earn the film an R rating from the MPAA twice before trims secured a PG-13. Says Affleck, ''It probably means that by definition, it's not going to play as broadly as 'Spider-Man.'''

Affleck concedes, too, that Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer who dons a horned cowl by night to pummel thugs as Daredevil (created by writer Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett in 1964), has always been a second-stringer, a cult figure with few extraordinary powers save his gymnastic agility and heightened remaining senses. ''[He'd be] waaay down the list,'' says the star, if you polled the population about their favorite comic-book heroes, ranking far below Batman, Superman, Spidey, the X-Men, and the Hulk.

That makes ''Daredevil'' a more direct test of Affleck's leading-man star quality than ''Spider-Man'' was for Tobey Maguire's. Affleck's costars -- Jennifer Garner (of TV's ''Alias'') as Murdock's girlfriend and nemesis Elektra (Fox is already mulling a sequel/spin-off for her), Michael Clarke Duncan (''The Green Mile'') as corrupt underworld boss Kingpin, and Colin Farrell (''The Recruit'') as psychopathic killer Bullseye -- are respected actors, but hardly marquee names. ''This is a big movie for Ben,'' says Jon Favreau, who plays Murdock's bickersome legal sidekick, ''Foggy'' Nelson. ''He's been in a lot of movies that made money, but a lot of them, like 'Armageddon,' were big movies around him. This is one he's really carrying. If this does well, it puts him in a bigger league than he's already in.''

Last year, Affleck scored back-to-back hits with ''Changing Lanes'' and ''The Sum of All Fears,'' with combined grosses of over $180 million. But he pooh-poohs all the statistical handicapping. ''People like to turn movies into soap opera installments in the life of this or that actor,'' he says. ''This movie being a hit is not going to make me the most sought-after star in the world. And if it doesn't work, I'm not going to be unhirable. It's not all or nothing.''

Affleck, who's got the John Woo sci-fi thriller ''Paycheck'' lined up after the comedy ''Surviving Christmas,'' seems blithely unconcerned about the risks, or about whether ''Daredevil'' will spawn a successful sequel machine. Whatever happens, he's cool. ''This movie's more important to Marvel Comics than to anybody else, if you think about it,'' he says. ''Daredevil is an experiment in, What if you have [a character] everyone doesn't know about, that isn't on the lips of everyone? Can you make that an event?''

That's what Affleck's private life seems like right now: an experiment in event making. At times, he seems to view the romance with Lopez as a sort of playful performance piece, especially that surveillance-style music video for ''Jenny From the Block'' with all the shots of the two canoodling. ''We saw it as a way to sat
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