There’s a scene early in Greenpeace documentary Sanctuary where Javiar Bardem arrives in the Antarctic and struggles to put on boots and a one-piece snowsuit. “Do you really have to shoot this?” he asks, laughing, while someone off camera jokingly calls him their action hero. “I have a career man, you can’t do that to me!”

It’s one of several moments of levity that the Oscar-winning actor brings to the Álvaro Longoria-directed film, which follows Bardem, his brother Carlos and Greenpeace activists on a mission to preserve the Antarctic Ocean by turning it into the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

“The way we have lived so far where everything is very comfortable, very reachable and very fast has to change,” Bardem tells us ahead of Sanctuary‘s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It’s not easy, but it has to change. We all have to do our part, but we need policies that support our actions.”

The Antarctic waters are one of the most unique places on the planet. Most of the species that live there only live there says John Hocevar, director of ocean campaigns at Greenpeace. There is urgency in protecting the area; its delicate ecosystem is under threat from expanding fisheries, particularly for krill, a shrimp-like crustacean critical to the food chain. (It’s harvested, in part, for use in omega-3 supplements.)

“We’ve already lost so much in my lifetime and the projections from the scientists about where we’re headed if we don’t get our act together are truly awful,” says Hocevar.

Actors Carlos Bardem and Javier Bardem in documentary ‘Sanctuary’. 

Bardem stops short of calling himself an environmental activist, though he would certainly qualify as one. “I am just a person who worries about my eight- and six-year-old. One day they will be eighteen and look at us and say, ‘You knew about it [climate change], what did you do about it?’”

One particularly poignant moment in Sanctuary comes when a small boat the Bardem brothers are taking ashore is delayed because a plastic bag has become tangled in the motor. Plastic and other garbage in the oceans is something Bardem wants to see addressed in Disney’s The Little Mermaid live-action remake.

“The first thing I said to the director Rob Marshall was how much I’d like to do the movie,” Bardem, who is in talks to play Ariel’s father King Triton, tells us. “And the second was that we need to bring this into the story. That’s its power, to bring this message across to so many millions of people, especially young people. And he was open to the idea.”

Upon returning home from the Antarctic, Bardem said he felt “frustrated” by the number of people who still don’t seem to care about the climate emergency. “They haven’t even thought about the possibility of quitting eating so much meat,” says Bardem, who has been vegan for the past month and a half and cut back on the number of flights he takes.

Javier Bardem shares his love of penguins in ‘Sanctuary’.

“In the history of evolution, we’re just a minute on that clock – and what we are doing in that minute is destroying everything. Those who deny the fact that humans are the cause [of climate change] are supporting their own economic interests, but we have to say ‘enough.’”

“What we thought was happening in the near future is happening today,” he adds. “I said this at the United Nations, and it’s true: We are the protagonists of a catastrophic movie and there’s no Dwayne Johnson to save us. We’re all starring in it. So we better take care of things ourselves.”

Watch the trailer for Sanctuary below.