George Clooney is an extremely popular guy—except this week. The actor is doing some damage control after a very candid interview with Esquire, in which he had some not-so-kind words for Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, and the makers of a certain automobile.
It's Clooney's takedown of DiCaprio that has raised the most eyebrows. In the interview, Clooney tells a story about the time that he and Leo, a fellow basketball nut, challenged one another's amateur teams to a game. Right away, says Clooney, Leo's friends started talking smack to him—and told him a lot about the kind of company DiCaprio keeps.
"We get there, and there’s this guy, Danny A I think his name is. Danny A is this club kid from New York. And he comes up to me and says, 'We played once at Chelsea Piers. I kicked your a**,'" Clooney recalls. "I said, 'I've only played at Chelsea Piers once in my life and ran the table. So if we played, you didn't kick anybody's a**.' And so then we're watching them warm up, and they're doing this weave around the court, and one of the guys I play with says, 'You know we're going to kill these guys, right?' Because they can't play at all."
"We’re all like 50 years old, and we beat them three straight: 11–0, 11–0, 11–0," Clooney continues. "And the discrepancy between their game and how they talked about their game made me think of how important it is to have someone in your life to tell you what's what. I'm not sure if Leo has someone like that."
So he wasn't talking about DiCaprio so much as he was talking about DiCaprio's entourage. Still, there was enough backlash from Clooney's comments that his publicist felt the need to intervene.
"The Leo comments were all made in fun about basketball. Not about Leo's life," Clooney's rep told E! News. "The writer and George were laughing about basketball buddies."
His publicist did not, however, apologize for Clooney's comments about Russell Crowe. The Les Miserables actor got on Clooney's bad side when he trashed him in the press.
"He picked a fight with me. He started it for no reason at all. He put out this thing saying, 'George Clooney, Harrison Ford and Robert De Niro are sellouts,'" Clooney tells Esquire. "And I put out a statement saying, He’s probably right. And I'm glad he told us, 'cause Bob and Harrison and I were also thinking about starting a band, which would also fall under the heading of bad use of celebrity.'"
Ha! In case you've forgotten, Crowe cashed in on his Gladiator success by starting a band called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. But rather than try to outwit Clooney with his own sarcastic response, Crowe escalated the feud.
"And that’s when he really went off on me," Clooney says. "'Who the f**k does this guy think he is? He’s a Frank Sinatra wannabe.' He really went after me. And so I sent him a note going, 'Dude, the only people who succeed when two famous people are fighting is People magazine. What the f**k is wrong with you?'"
Hilariously, Crowe tried to make peace with Clooney before the 2006 Golden Globes by sending him a "disc of his music and a thing of his poetry," and claiming he was misquoted. Clooney intended to have the last word by reading Crowe's poetry aloud at that year's BAFTAs—but alas, he didn't win, and Crowe's poetic oeuvre will remain a mystery to the rest of us.
Crowe hasn't responded to Clooney's Esquire interview (yet), but the CEO of Tesla Motors has. While talking cars with the journalist, Clooney said that he stopped driving a Tesla (one of Hollywood's signature status cars) because his kept breaking down. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted this:
The funny thing about Clooney's controversial interview is how little it changes our opinion of the actor. Was it petty to bring up the Crowe and DiCaprio anecdotes? Maybe. But he was trying to illustrate the pitfalls of being too famous, which is something he's obviously dedicated a lot of thought to. Clooney also has no shortage of nice things to say about buddies like Brad Pitt and Bill Murray, who don't let their egos get in the way of their work.
Clooney's candor is just one of the reasons why it's so easy to like him. At this point, we doubt that anything he does could really put a dent in his popularity. Except maybe playing Batman again.
Donna Kaufman is a freelance writer and iVillage contributor—find her on Twitter.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.