BEN AFFLECK AND CHARLIZE THERON

SIXTEEN YEARS AFTER THEIR FIRST FLIRTATION, BEN AFFLECK AND CHARLIZE THERON ARE FINALLY ABLE TO SEE WHERE THEIR INCREDIBLE CHEMISTRY WILL LEAD THEM

Ben Charlize eeret omance they’re now poised to embark on a secret romance.

A LONG-SIMMERING SPARK

The pair first bonded while shooting the 2000 thriller Reindeer Games and off the bat, one source claims, “there was crazy chemistry between them.” Indeed, their love scenes in that twisty heist pic were hot enough to spark rumors that Ben, 43, and Charlize, 40, had an on-set romance, although the source is firm that it never happened. “He was still with Gwyneth Paltrow,” the insider explains, and he was faithful, even though it was kind of an on-off thing by then.” Charlize, meanwhile, was seriously dating Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins.

Over the years since, Ben and Charlize have “run into each other at various Hollywood

As even his soon-to-be ex-wife recently conceded, Ben Affleck is a charismatic superstar who can light up any room. And Charlize Theron is a model-gorgeous leading lady who’s wickedly smart, crazy talented and the ultimate guy’s girl to boot, quick to throw back a drink or make a bawdy joke. So the fact that these two have long been attracted to each other is no big surprise; what person in their right mind wouldn t be?

Still, the idea that they might get together was strictly the stuff of fantasy… until now, that is. Simultaneously single at last, the A-list duo recently reconnected at a post-Oscars party (right under Jennifer Garner’s nose!), and, according to a source,

Jen and Charlize, pictured at the 2002 MTV Movie Awards, were once friendly, but that doesn’t mean Ben’s ex will approve. “Ben would be right to worry what Jen thinks,” k the source says.

events,” the source says, including the 2010 Spike Guys’ Choice Awards, where they exchanged an onstage hug, and that year’s American Cinematheque Awards honoring their mutual pal and costar Matt Damon.

But things never quite clicked for the megawatt stars until February’s Vanity Fair Oscars party. Ben was a free man, having called it quits with his wife of 10 years in June; Charlize had famously ghosted on her boyfriend of one year, Sean Penn, around the same time. “They could finally flirt freely, and it was electric,” the source says, although they still kept their exchange outwardly low-key. “Jennifer was there, so Ben and Charlize limited themselves to a relatively quick conversation before going their separate ways.”

n Reindeer Games, Ben played an ex-con who’d just been released from prison, and Charlize was the woman who became his lover. But, even if the 2000 film failed to thrill critics, one

person came out of it very impressed with Charlize’s performance: Ben himself!

At various points along their globe-trotting press tour, Ben called his costar “beautiful,” “stunning” and

“down-to-earth.” And a source says he never forgot how much he enjoyed acting (and shooting sex scenes) with her. “He always said that he wanted to work with her again.”

TATTOOGATE!

A crush on Charlize isn’t the Only thing Ben’s covering up: He recently claimed that his much-maligned phoenix tattoo, photographed last fall, is fake, applied for his part in a 1920s-set gangster flick. OK, Ben!

says, “you won’t see them on dates at high-profile restaurants.

It’ll be their little secret for as long as possible.” Instead, the source predicts, they’re likely to stick to out-of-the-way haunts in the Valley or possibly to Charlize’s secluded Hollywood Hills home, since Ben’s current residence is a guest house in the backyard of his and Jen’s Pacific Palisades property.

Either way, nothing will proceed without much consideration of their children. (Charlize is the adoptive mom of 4-year-old son Jackson and a baby girl, August, while Ben shares three kids with Jen Violet, 10, Seraphina, 7, and Samuel, 4.) “They’re both great parents,” the source says. “This is definitely not a straightforward situation, because they each have a lot of other people’s feelings to consider.”

SURE, BEN’S A BIT OF A BAD BOY… BUT IT’S CLEAR CHARLIZE LIKES ’EM TALL HANDSOME AND A LITTLE DARK!

HER FIRST LOVE

Charlize dated rock star Stephan Jenkins who, with his band Third Eye Blind, made radio-friendly pop songs about using meth from 1997 to 2001.

THE STAGE IS SET

Now, the source says, everyone in their circles who saw them that night is speculating about when and how a relationship will develop. “One thing’s for certain,” the source

HE’S JUST HER TYPE

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Chief among those “other people” is Ben’s 43-year-old ex, but the source says she may not be too upset if Ben and Charlize couple up.

“Friends of hers have heard

whispers about it and basically shrugged it off, saying he’ll only end up breaking Charlize’s heart too.” Regardless of his checkered past, it’s not impossible that Charlize and Ben could turn out to be a great match one which both of them surely deserve after a rough past year in the romance department. And while neither one of them would want things to go public anytime soon, they may not be able to hide much longer. “They’ve got an insane connection,” the source says. “It’s time for them to act on the passion that was sparked all those years ago,” OK’

HER “HUSBAND”

Actor Stuart Townsend, who’s said he “considered [himself] married” to Charlize from 2002 to 2010, was best known for playing a vampire.

HER LAST EX

She spent a year with Sean Penn, but (wisely) broke up with the volatile star before he headed to Mexico to interview a most wanted drug lord.

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