Photograph provided by John Russo, Before the Flood
Photograph provided by John Russo, Before the Flood

Leonard DiCaprio on Interviewing Obama, the Pope

The actor traveled the world for a new documentary on the threats of climate change.

This story appears in the November 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Leonardo DiCaprio likes to say that he makes his living in made-up worlds. The Oscar-winning actor, 41, has played an 1820s frontiersman, a 1920s tycoon, and a 1960s con man. Now DiCaprio, a UN messenger of peace, has produced a documentary about a very real concern: climate change, and the need for government action. He shot Before the Flood all over the world—this time playing himself.

Before the Flood airs Sunday, October 30, at 9/8c on National Geographic.

Whom do you hope to reach with the film?

We all have a role to play in saving our planet. This film is meant to educate everyone, from global leaders to everyday citizens, on the threat of climate change. There are practical steps we all must take—today—to hasten the adoption of renewable and clean-energy technologies across the planet. For the film we interviewed inspiring figures, from Pope Francis and President Obama—who both have the ability to galvanize millions of people—to activists like Sunita Narain, a tremendous voice in India who’s calling for her country to be part of a global solution.

How can an issue like climate change attract more sustained attention?

There is no issue this important—because the future of the planet is at stake. We have no planet B. The energy we focus on solving climate change and the pressure we place on global leaders to lead on the question will help create a sustainable and livable environment for the long term.

You traveled around the world for this film. What message do people have for Americans?

We need to vote for leaders who understand the serious issues impacting our climate—and for leaders who believe in the undeniable truth of science. No nation or society is immune from the symptoms of climate change. America is in many places already feeling the impacts of it: droughts in California, rising seas in Miami, more extreme storms in the Gulf of Mexico. We can still prevent these crises from becoming a widespread challenge in the future of our country. We have an opportunity to lead the world on one of the most crucial issues of all time.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.