This time, Affleck’s ubiquitous nature is because of his relationship with Ana de Armas, 32, who just had her breakout year in Hollywood as the star of the hit movie “Knives Out.” The couple (dubbed “BenAna,” which rivals “Bennifer” in the celebrity portmanteau hall of fame) has drawn a curious amount of attention since they started dating earlier this year. Their relationship went public around the time the world started to shut down because of the novel coronavirus, and they decided to quarantine together in Los Angeles. Ever since, practically everything they do becomes a tabloid story.
They walk adorable dogs. Wear sweatpants. Drink excessive amounts of Dunkin’ coffee. (One time, Affleck carried two gigantic iced coffees that appeared to both be for him.) Lock themselves out of the house. Hang out with Affleck’s kids. Set out cardboard cutouts of Armas on the lawn, for unexplained reasons. Kiss while wearing masks. They also attended a rally to support the black community in Venice, Calif., which resulted in a much-circulated photo of Affleck holding up a Black Lives Matter sign.
As much as the mild obsession with them is understandable — two attractive, famous people in a relationship will always make news — the BenAna fascination is also startling. Even with a lack of celebrity content as most of Hollywood is still shut down, they don’t do anything that interesting except sometimes get tangled in their dogs’ leashes. And yet, they remain oddly riveting in a way that other stars in this time simply do not.
Though Affleck and de Armas’s publicists did not respond to requests for comment about why the pair has become a phenomenon, others believe that seeing photos of BenAna’s daily mundane activities has provided an unexpected source of comfort in an unsettling time.
“I think there a lot of people during this global health crisis looking for structure in an uncontrolled situation where there are so many question marks and so much uncertainty,” said Elaine Lui, the “etalk” and “The Social” TV personality who runs LaineyGossip.com. Affleck and de Armas’s frequent outdoor outings provide this, as the only thing that changes are their outfits (including that time they shared a shirt and that other time they wore matching heart necklaces.)
Lui speculates that while Affleck has never shied away from the spotlight, the couple is likely not concerned about cameras at the moment. “There are bigger issues happening in the world than being worried about being photographed and people caring about their love life,” Lui said. “It’s more resignation: ‘Yeah, we’re an entertainment story right now, but let’s at least not give anyone anything bad to write about.’”
Then, there’s the never-ending complicated narrative of Affleck. De Armas, the next Bond girl and future star of a Marilyn Monroe biopic, only recently cemented her status as one of Hollywood’s burgeoning stars. She starred in a popular TV show in Spain before moving to L.A. and landing movie roles such as “Blade Runner 2049” and “Knives Out,” the latter of which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. But Affleck has been a Hollywood movie staple for more than 20 years, and his roller-coaster career has run parallel to his much-documented personal life.
After his dreamlike Hollywood origin story, winning an Oscar for writing “Good Will Hunting” with his best friend Matt Damon, it’s no surprise audiences became deeply invested in his journey. The charmed Gwyneth Paltrow years around “Armageddon.” The Jennifer Lopez/Bennifer era coinciding with flops such as “Gigli.” The 10-year marriage to Jennifer Garner, as he won back credibility and directed the Oscar-winning “Argo.” The Garner divorce, right before “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the “Sad Affleck” meme that started when he was asked about the film’s terrible reviews.
Then there were the recent dark years: His “Justice League” press tour turned into conversations about sexual harassment, as Affleck was consistently asked about Harvey Weinstein producing “Good Will Hunting.” He apologized for groping Hilarie Burton on-air on “Total Request Live” in 2003. He has been candid about his years-long struggle with alcohol addiction and his multiple trips to rehab, posting a long letter in 2018 about his battle with sobriety.
No matter what, the fixation on Affleck continues. Famous people strike a chord when other people see themselves in them. Perhaps that’s what makes Affleck more relatable than most stars — a wealthy celebrity, but one brought down to earth by his many mistakes. Plus, he’s someone who isn’t afraid to show how he really feels, such as an extremely gloomy shot of him pulling down his face mask to smoke a cigarette.
A.J., a Houston resident who runs the popular de Armas fan Twitter account (@ArmasUpdates) that has circulated many photos of the couple, said part of BenAna’s appeal is that they seem like their genuine selves. They’re clearly aware of the public commentary about them: De Armas made headlines when she blocked the account after A.J. wrote gently sarcastic tweets that pointed out the couple’s sometimes mask-less trips outside during lockdown. A.J. said the move initially took him aback but ultimately made him like de Armas even more.
“It’s like they’re almost playing with their image of how people perceive them,” said A.J., who spoke on the condition that his last name not be used because of online backlash he has received from other de Armas fans. “I feel like they know what they’re doing. It’s hard for me to think they’re oblivious.”
While it’s easy to be cynical about celebrities’ antics in front of the cameras, Lui — who has spent years analyzing celebrity PR maneuvers — is convinced BenAna is truly in love, evidenced by their outings with Affleck’s three kids that he shares with Garner. She is hopeful that when the two are eventually asked about their popularity during the coronavirus era, they’ll understand why people cared so much.
“I hope they have the sense of humor to be like, ‘Well, you know, if we were a source of comfort to people, great,’ ” Lui said. “I hope it doesn’t become a bummer, like, ‘It was so horrible that people were paying so much attention to us.’ ”