LAST week, Ben Affleck stepped out with his latest fling, Saturday Night Live producer Lindsay Shookus, whisking her away via limo for a romantic lobster dinner at Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica, California.
It’s a departure from Shookus’ typical six-day-a-week grind working as a Manhattan-based talent broker for SNL, but given her ear-to-ear grin in paparazzi pics, the 37-year-old seems to be basking in her new-found spotlight — although it’s hardly her first romantic brush with fame.
According to a Hollywood source, Affleck and Shookus first met on the set of SNL and commenced an affair in 2013 — two years before Affleck officially separated from his wife, actor Jennifer Garner, and one year before Shookus and her then-husband, Kevin Miller, a producer at Late Night with Seth Meyers, parted ways. A source told People that Affleck and Shookus “did not date while either of them were married. They started dating when they were separated.”
Shookus, who grew up in Williamsville in upstate New York, has been working at SNL since graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002, climbing her way up from assistant to the head of the talent department and the prestigious position of wrangling the show’s guest hosts.
“I can’t believe that a girl from nowhere New York ruined a Hollywood marriage,” said the publicist close to the situation.
Despite her small-town beginnings, Shookus certainly seems comfortable around celebrity. She is credited with having discovered Kristen Wiig, one of the show’s biggest stars of the past decade, and was named an “Up-and-Coming Exec” by The Hollywood Reporter in 2015.
“The role that she has at SNL now, she is very much the trusted confidante of all the talent,” said the colleague, who added that Shookus has taken over the hobnobbing duties of 20-year SNL vet Marci Klein, daughter of fashion designer Calvin Klein.
“Lindsay has developed very close relationships with all of [the cast], as well as the [guest] hosts.”
In addition to Affleck, Shookus has previously been linked to Jon Hamm, who has hosted three times and made six guest appearances on SNL, according to multiple sources. One insider told the New York Post of having spotted the pair looking cozy at a Kanye West concert at Madison Square Garden last September.
The colleague of Shookus’ said the talent broker is rumoured to have dated Sex and the City star Chris Noth, too.
And then there’s Affleck, the 44-year-old actor who complained to The Associated Press that he had to cut his sex scenes with Sienna Miller in the 2016 crime drama Live by Night, because he looked “like a sick polar bear.”
Despite recently being mocked in the press for his “dad bod,” Affleck still wears the hat of a Hollywood heart-throb thanks to his past romancing of a glittering string of beauties — from Garner to Jennifer Lopez to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Although she’s a beautiful blonde, Shookus is a departure from Affleck’s past rotation of A-list love interests. “He’s never really dated a regular girl before,” said an entertainment publicist who knows Shookus.
“He’s always gone for high-profile women. He wants to date people that know and understand his life. When you’re a TV producer, you understand that [Hollywood] life.”
“Ben really enjoys [Shookus’] company,” said a friend of the actor’s. “They have a really good time together. She’s very smart, and they share a lot of the interests. She’s a movie buff, so that clearly always excites him.”
One person not so excited about the pairing is Garner, who married the Good Will Hunting actor in 2005 and shares three kids, ages 5, 8 and 11, with him. The couple officially filed for divorce in April.
The Hollywood source said that Garner confronted Shookus when she found text messages between the SNL staffer and Affleck four years ago and that Shookus “refused to stop” the dalliance.
The source said the Alias actor also pulled Shookus’ then-husband, Miller, aside when she was on Seth Meyers’ show and showed him the communication between their two spouses.
“Kevin had an inkling [about the affair], but there was a lot he did not know,” said the Hollywood source.
“The [idea of] having an affair soon after she had a kid is disgusting,” said the publicist who is close to the situation.
At some point, Affleck and Shookus cooled off, but the relationship resumed at the beginning of last year, added the Hollywood source.
Even then, however, Shookus tried to keep her new beau under wraps for as long as possible, according to the publicist.
“Nobody really knew about it, not even the SNL crew, until news broke [recently],” she said.
Affleck, who has hosted SNL five times — the last in 2013 — and Shookus first publicly emerged as a couple earlier this month in London, where Affleck was working. The Hollywood source said the two had a date at a bar there and questioned whether Affleck has maintained his sobriety in the new relationship.
But Affleck’s friend disregards any such concerns, saying the actor/director — who has been to rehab more than once, including a stint this year related to alcohol addiction — is “working really hard at staying healthy.”
“Lindsay doesn’t have to be sober, and she’s welcome to drink,” the friend added.
One thing is for certain: Both Affleck and Shookus seem committed to maintaining cordial relationships with their exes for the sake of their respective children.
When Affleck moved out of the guesthouse of his family’s Los Angeles home in May, he relocated nearby to be close to his and Garner’s brood. Shookus and Miller — who met on Shookus’ first day of work at SNL when Miller was a writer’s assistant — went one step further; they live in separate apartments in the same Upper West Side building so they can co-parent their young daughter.
And while some insiders are surprised Affleck has turned his attention on a hardworking “normal girl,” SNLers have a tendency to woo Hollywood’s elite: Scarlett Johansson has recently been spotted making out around town with SNL’s Weekend Update co-host Colin Jost, and former cast member Jason Sudeikis is married to Olivia Wilde.
“It’s sort of common,” said an SNL associate producer. “The staff and talent are always interacting with one another. You never know when romance is going to bloom. It’s just like any other office — except we work in the entertainment industry.”
Originally published as Inside Affleck’s steamy new romance