Early aughts fashion trends aren't the only thing making a comeback in 2021. It appears that the era's most famous it-couple is also back in style: Bennifer.
The newly single Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's recent weeklong getaway to Montana has many people basking in the sweet, sweet bliss of 2002 nostalgia — when spindly eyebrows were all the rage, and when the two actors were the most talked about power couple in Hollywood.
Few interviews embody the peak of their bond quite like the pair's first-ever primetime interview together in 2003. The two had met on the set of the movie Gigli in 2001, while Lopez was married to her second husband, Cris Judd. Lopez and Judd divorced the following year, Bennifer filmed another movie together (2002's Jersey Girl), and within three months of Lopez's split, she and Affleck announced that they were engaged. (This is also the same month that Affleck starred in the singer's classic "Jenny from the Block" video.) However, this time, Lopez was certain "things would be different." She told ABC News that her feelings for Affleck were "bigger and realer" and "totally different" from anything she had felt before.
Bennifer were already publicly gushing about each other separately — in a November 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, Lopez described her fiancé as "brilliantly smart, loving, charming, affectionate" and some who she "admires in every way — but the newly engaged couple's sit down with NBC's Pat O'Brien on Access Hollywood was another level of delightful mush.
Sitting in the Vancouver rental house that Affleck was staying in while they both were shooting films in Canada, they reflect on their budding relationship as they filmed Gigli. "It felt like we had good chemistry. You know what I mean?" Lopez says. "He likes to improv. I could improv back. He’s the best person to improv in the whole entire business, really, he’s so funny.”
Affleck gets embarrassed: “Don’t be like my mum," he says, laughing.
“I’m your mum now!” Lopez replies through laughter, turning to her fiancé and giving him a squeeze.
“Don’t do that thing where you’re like, he’s the best,” he says.
“He is though!" Lopez practically yells to O'Brien. "I’m not the only one who says it."
They then explain how their friendship and ability to be vulnerable with each other was the bedrock of their romantic relationship.
"The truth is that when we did start working together we got along great," Lopez says of her time with Affleck filming Gigli. "I mean, we really did become friends, really good friends. [...] We talked a lot and that’s the thing. There was no kind of idea that we would be together in the future, so it was one of those things where you kind of like say too much.”
Affleck explains that their ability to be open with one another allowed for even more intimacy. "Because you know when you aren’t trying to impress someone cause you don’t think that you’re going to be dating them its like, oh this doesn’t matter, I don’t have to impress her. You’ll kind of admit to things.”
One of the most compelling moments, however, is when Affleck proudly explains how much of a role model his fiancé is for Latinx and other women of colour from humble beginnings who are looking to make it.
“This is somebody who nobody ever said like, hey kid, you’re going to be a star, you’ve got what it takes," he says. "She didn’t look like how people were supposed to look, she didn’t have the body shape that women were supposed to have, and rather than changing herself or trying to be something else, she said, this is who I am and she believed in herself. It’s a real Horatio Alger story.”
As much as the public was excited about the newly-minted Hollywood power couple, it was the constant media attention and barrage of paparazzi that put a detrimental strain on their relationship. "We didn't try to have a public relationship," Lopez told People in 2016, over a decade after their split. "We just happened to be together at the birth of the tabloids, and it was like 'Oh my God.' It was just a lot of pressure."
Much of what fuelled the tabloid's obsession with the supercouple was their "unlikely" pairing even though they actually had similar upbringings. "We've talked about this so many times, and we talked about how people kind of see him with … one type of person and me with another type of person, and the two of us together is like, 'How did that happen?' " she told Sawyer in 2002. "And how we're probably more alike and from the same kind of background … same kind of upbringing and same kind of family and same kind of house."
Bennifer had planned to get married in Santa Barbara in September 2003, but postponed the ceremony in a joint statement the day before, citing the suffocating scrutiny of the media as the reason.
"Due to the excessive media attention surrounding our wedding, we have decided to postpone the date," they wrote. "When we found ourselves seriously contemplating hiring three separate 'decoy brides' at three different locations, we realised that something was awry. We began to feel that the spirit of what should have been the happiest day of our lives could be compromised. We felt what should have been a joyful and sacred day could be spoiled for us, our families and our friends."
They were rumoured to attempt a reunion, but officially called it quits in January 2004. Subsequently, each went on to get married and have kids separately: Lopez with singer Marc Anthony, with whom she shares twins Max and Emme and divorced in 2014. Affleck married Jennifer Garner, with whom he has a son, Samuel, and two daughters, Seraphina and Violet, but they divorced in 2018. Lopez was later engaged to former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, but they broke up in April 2021. After less than a year together, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas ended their relationship in January 2021.
Ever since the breakup, however, Affleck and Lopez have maintained that they have remained on good terms. Lopez told HuffPost Live in 2015 that she had "no regrets" about Affleck and there was "genuine love there," and Affleck in turn said in February 2020, when Lopez was in Hustlers, that she should've been nominated for an Oscar, that the two "keep in touch periodically," and that he has a "lot of respect for her."
They both also have said that it truly was the media that ultimately got in their way. "I was in a high-profile relationship at the time [of the relationship] that fell apart in a really bad way, and so the kind of mix of those two things and the tabloid press had just come into existence at the time, so I was like a poster child for that moment," Lopez told HuffPost Live in the same interview. "I was in the tabloids every other week about how my life was falling apart. It was a tough time."
In a podcast interview in January 2021, Affleck blasted the media's "ugly" coverage of Lopez during their relationship. "People were so fucking mean about her — sexist, racist," he said. "Ugly, vicious shit was written about her in ways that if you wrote it now you would literally be fired for saying those things you said. Now it's like, she's lionised and respected for the work she did, where she came from, what she accomplished — as well she fucking should be! I would say you have a better shot, coming from the Bronx, of ending up as like [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor on the Supreme Court than you do of having Jennifer Lopez's career and being who she is at 50 years old today."
And now, we've come full circle as the two seem to be an item again. But even as they're making a comeback, it seems unlikely that some things — read: overwhelming, invasive media attention — will be left in the past. We've already seen TMZ report on their alleged email correspondence, and Matt Damon gleefully join in on the relationship speculation.
As Bennifer could tell you, history repeats itself in all sorts of ways.
As Bennifer could tell you, history repeats itself in all sorts of ways.