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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Catch Me If You Can'

September 28, 2020 6.7k views15 items

The life story of Frank Abagnale is fascinating. Suitably, so are Catch Me If You Can's making-of stories. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the 2002 film about Abagnale brought together Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks for a rousing comedic adventure full of hard-to-believe twists. The picture was a blockbuster, earning $164 million domestically. In the time since its release, it has become widely regarded as a modern classic.

DiCaprio plays Abagnale, who, as a young man, went on an unbelievable streak of scams. Among other things, he pretended to be a doctor and ended up becoming the chief resident pediatrician at a hospital in Georgia. He also passed himself off as an airline pilot, helping to fly planes despite the fact that he knew nothing about aviation. Hanks, meanwhile, is Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent hot on Abagnale's trail. Hanks's character is based on Joseph Shea, the man who apprehended and then befriended Abagnale in real life.

Catch Me If You Can's behind-the-scenes stories reveal some of the challenges of bringing a true story to the screen. Certain facts were fudged, while minor details were re-created with precision. Different actors came and went. Spielberg mined his own past to help tell the tale. Those are just a few examples; this list will break down everything you need to know.

  • Photo: marcus_jb1973/SoWhy / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.0

    Frank Abagnale’s Life Story Was Sold Seven Different Times, And The Movie Was In Development Since The Early '80s

    Catch Me If You Can was released in 2002, but the project was kicking around Hollywood for a long time before that. In the book Catch Me If You Can: The Film and Filmmakers, Abagnale writes that he initially sold the movie rights to his life to producer Bud Yorkin in 1978. Two years later, Yorkin, realizing that he personally wouldn't be able to do anything with them, sold those rights. That 1980 sale set off a long stretch of "development hell" in which different studios and production companies tried to get the movie off the ground. 

    All in all, Abagnale's life story was sold seven different times. Columbia Television, producer Hall Bartlett, Disney's Hollywood Pictures division, and TriStar Pictures were among those who held the rights at various points. Eventually, it ended up in the hands of DreamWorks producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who finally managed to bring Abagnale's tale to the big screen.

  • Photo: The Sopranos / HBO

    The Film Almost Got Made In 2000 With James Gandolfini As Carl, Ed Harris As Abagnale’s Dad, And Chloe Sevigny In The Amy Adams Role

    Development on Catch Me If You Can took such a long time that some of the prospective cast members ended up changing. The film was once slated to go into production in 2000, with Gore Verbinski directing and James Gandolfini in the role of Carl Hanratty. Two things caused that lineup to hit the brakes. First, star Leonardo DiCaprio's availability changed when another picture he was making, Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, fell behind schedule. Then there was a looming strike from both the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. Because of these issues, Gandolfini, who was only available to shoot during hiatus from The Sopranos, had to drop out.

    The delay also closed the door for actor Chloe Sevigny, originally slated to play Brenda Strong. That role ultimately went to Amy Adams. Ed Harris, who was supposed to play Abagnale's dad, also had to bail. 

  • DiCaprio Met His Real-Life Counterpart Before Filming, Against The Advice Of Spielberg

    Actors have different perspectives when preparing to play real people. Some don't want to meet their real-life counterparts, believing it will only lead to poor imitation. Others do want to meet, so they can learn from their subject or absorb elements of their personality. DiCaprio was of the "I want to pick your brain" school; he got together with Abagnale before shooting commenced.

    The meeting was against the advice of Spielberg, who thought "it wouldn't be a good idea." Nevertheless, DiCaprio went to Abagnale's house and even followed him around with a tape recorder for a few days. The purpose, he said, was to "get to the underlying mechanics of what made this guy so engaging."

  • Photo: Romain DUBOIS / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Spielberg Pulled Off An Abagnale-Style Con Himself When He Was 16 To Get Into Film

    Spielberg, it turned out, identified with Abagnale to some degree. That's because his career began with a con, one he called "the only scam in my whole life."

    At the age of 16, he decided to make his way onto the Universal lot. Dressing up in a coat and tie, he boarded the bus to take the studio tour. Then he jumped off the bus at a certain point and started showing himself around. This put him in the presence of a Universal librarian named Chuck Silvers. Upon learning that this adolescent boy was an aspiring filmmaker who had already helmed countless home movies, Silvers invited him back to the lot the next day.

    Now a somewhat familiar face, Spielberg continued to dress up every day and stroll past the security guard while carrying a briefcase. He commandeered a vacant office, added himself to the studio directory, and "went into business for myself." When finally questioned by a security guard, he dropped the name of the studio's president, Lew Wasserman, whom he'd never met, and was promptly left alone thereafter.