April 23, 2004 01:05 AM

Real Romance?
Is Apprentice winner Bill Rancic dating The Bachelor’s Jen Schefft, or not? Perhaps the two of them should set up a toll-free number and let us vote on it. “I’ve been to dinner with Jen a couple times,” Rancic told us at a party at New York hotspot Marquee this week. “People are blowing this way out of proportion.” What might be stopping the two of them? “She has her own career and I’ve obviously got a big task in front of me,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.” Well, okay, but he likes her, right? “Any guy would be lucky to have her,” he told us. “She’s a great person. She’s probably one of the most genuine women I’ve ever met.” Hmm. Meanwhile, we wanted to know if success on The Apprentice has gone to his head. “My feet are firmly planted on the ground and I know I’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of me,” he said. “I’m not losing perspective on reality.” Though he’s having “the time of my life,” he expects his newfound fame to add to the challenge of overseeing the new Trump building in Chicago. “I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said. “I’m going to be living in a fishbowl for the next year. People are going to be watching everything I do.”

Gere-ing Up
Everyone has a favorite Richard Gere film. (Right?) So, are you more of an American Gigolo fan, or does your taste lean more toward Chicago? A tie between Primal Fear and Autumn in New York? Interesting. Anyway, we posed the question to some of Gere’s celebrity friends as they gathered at New York’s tony Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to honor him at the American Museum of the Moving Image’s 19th annual black-tie salute to an exceptional professional in the film industry. Here’s what they had to say:
Sharon Stone: “I loved him when he carried Debra Winger through the factory (in An Officer and a Gentleman) because I’m so blue collar. That just made me so happy. But of course, watching him dance in Chicago, that took a lot of guts.”
Kim Cattrall: “I think the first time I ever saw him was in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and he was so amazingly dangerous and sexy.”
Matthew Modine: “I thought he was terrific in Breathless. … It was an incredibly brave, put-your-head-on-the-chopping-block-kind of a performance and if you go back and look at it, it’s terrific. It’s terrific. It’s absolutely terrific.”
Richard Gere: “I’ve done a lot of movies. When people ask me (which is my favorite) I usually say the recent ones probably mean the most to me. Chicago was such a special experience. It was just fun, pure fun, beginning to end, and in some ways maybe I had forgotten how fun acting can be.”

Fast Takes
Is Alias star Michael Vartan about to be out of a job? “I may not be back for season four,” says the actor. “Some of the characters are not going to make it. I hope I’m not one of them.” We’ll bet Jennifer Garner hopes so too. . . . Speaking of Vartan’s Alias costar, in her comedy 13 Going on 30, Jennifer Garner’s character works at a fashion magazine called Poise. “It was originally called Sizzle,” director Gary Winick told us. “Until we found out it’s the name of a porn magazine.” . . . Reality-show king Mark Burnett has been touched by an angel: A rep for Roma Downey confirms that the Irish actress is dating the creator of Survivor and The Apprentice. Both are divorced. . . . Kirsten Dunst and Jake Gyllenhaal brought their dog Atticus, a German shepherd mix, to the Silver Spoon Dog and Baby Buffet, an event held for fun at the Fairbanks estate in Beverly Hills recently, so Atticus could avail himself of a doggie massage and a new bed.

Roses Are Bad, Violets Are Too…
After muddling through 2,000 dates as the host and co-writer of the syndicated matchmaking show Blind Date, Roger Lodge has learned the art of keeping it casual. “Years ago, my wife and I went out a couple of times, and I was trying too hard. I looked like every other buffoon on the show,” says once-divorced Lodge, 43, who wed actress-model Pamela Paulshock last November. “Then she and I were set up again through a mutual friend. I didn’t play hard-to-get, but I’ve learned that you’ve got to show women who you are and what you’re all about, and then get out of there. Let them miss you! If you bring a dozen roses on a first date, it automatically takes the date to expectations that aren’t often matched. And it looks kind of desperate too.” We wouldn’t take dating advice from anyone else…

• By STEPHANIE PFEFFER, LISI DEBOURBON, ZORIANNA KIT and DANIELLE ANDERSON

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