Catch Me If You Can - Movie Production Notes

Catch Me If You Can
Production Notes


Oscar® nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Titanic”) and two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”) engage in a game of cat and mouse in “Catch Me If You Can,” under the direction of three-time Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List”).

 

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Frank W. Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) worked as a doctor, a lawyer and as a co-pilot for a major airline—all before his 21st birthday. A master of deception, he was also a brilliant forger, whose skill at check fraud had netted him millions of dollars in stolen funds. FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) had made it his prime mission to capture Frank and bring him to justice, but Frank is always one step ahead of him, baiting him to continue the chase.

“Catch Me If You Can” also stars Academy Award® winner Christopher Walken (“The Deer Hunter”), Golden Globe Award winner Martin Sheen (TV’s “The West Wing”), Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner (TV’s “Alias”).

Steven Spielberg directed “Catch Me If You Can” from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding. The film was produced by Steven Spielberg and Walter F. Parkes (“The Ring,” “Men in Black II”), with Barry Kemp, Laurie MacDonald, Michel Shane and Tony Romano executive producing.

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

COLOURFUL CHARACTERS

The plot of “Catch Me If You Can” might have seemed a bit far-fetched even by Hollywood standards…were it not for the fact that it is based on a true story.

“Things that happen in real life are sometimes a hundred times more fascinating than anything a person could make up off the top of his head,” remarks Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor who portrays the subject of the story, Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.
“Catch Me If You Can” is based on Abagnale’s autobiography of the same name, which chronicles how he—as a runaway teenager, without so much as a high school diploma—managed to pass himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and a college professor, all while cashing millions of dollars in fraudulent checks.
Frank Abagnale offers, “It begins with my parents’ divorce and its dramatic effect on me. I ran away and suddenly found myself a teenager alone in the world. I had to grow up very quickly and become very creative in order to survive. But what started out as survival became more and more of a game. I was an opportunist, so when I saw an opening I asked myself, ‘Could I get away with that?’ Then there was the satisfaction of actually getting away with it. The more I got away with, the more of a game it became—a game I knew I would ultimately lose, but a game I was going to have fun playing until I did.”

A bestseller, Abagnale’s autobiography has fascinated millions of readers, including director/producer Steven Spielberg. “I was like the many people who fell under the seductive influence of the real Frank William Abagnale, Jr., just through his book. And when you meet him, you understand in a second how he could pull the wool over your eyes and convince you that he was a doctor or a lawyer. I was fascinated by the unique way he came of age. I really believe he was very strongly affected by the divorce of his parents. There are all sorts of ways kids act out against divorce, and Frank just happened to act out in a way that was so original, it was worth making a movie about. Personally, I have always loved movies about sensational rogues, like the Newman/Redford classics ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and ‘The Sting.’ They were breaking the law, but you had to love them for their moxie.”

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson first learned of Abagnale’s story when co-producer Devorah Moos-Hankin, who serves as president of executive producer Barry Kemp’s production company, sent him a tape of Abagnale talking about his life. Nathanson recalls that, like Spielberg, the story reminded him of one of his favorite film genres. “It was the kind of feeling I got watching films like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ or ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’—films that focus on people who are working on the wrong side of the law or going against society; yet you can’t help but root for them because they’re so incredibly charming. That’s what I got out of just this 20-minute tape, so I thought it might make a good movie.”
Producer Walter F. Parkes was also instantly taken with Abagnale’s escapades, saying, “Any one aspect of Frank’s story seems so extraordinary that you could hang an entire movie on it. But then you cap it off with the fact that it is true, and it becomes irresistible.”

Others had agreed with that opinion in the years since the book Catch Me If You Can was first published in 1980. Although the book had been previously optioned, Abagnale admits, “I never dreamed it would ever really be a movie. How do you condense five eventful years of a life into a two-hour movie?”
Parkes acknowledges that the answer to that question did not come without challenges. “What was both exciting and tricky about ‘Catch Me If You Can’ was that it falls between several genres. There are times of searing drama, but at its heart, it is more of a comedy. So it was a challenge, both in the writing and in the execution of the movie, to somehow encompass all of those facets.”

“As a writer, that made it all the more interesting,” Nathanson says. “It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller, but at the same time it’s a coming-of-age story, and then very much a family drama. I like stories that cover different parts of life: there’s laughter, there’s heartbreak… ‘Catch Me If You Can’ gave me the chance to explore all of that through one remarkable period of Frank Abagnale’s life.”

The period during which Abagnale was able to pull off such elaborate scams was the decade of the 1960s, and both Parkes and Spielberg attribute at least some of Abagnale’s success to the innocence of the times. “I think it was the naiveté of those days that allowed Frank to get away with what he did for so long,” Parkes states. “It was a time before the counterculture, a time when we actually believed that the clothes made the man, that a uniform connoted a certain stature in the world. Frank intuitively understood that and was able to exploit it. It provided him the way to become this exceptional imposter.”

Spielberg adds, “It was a time of tremendous trust, when you never locked your doors, but felt safe.” Interestingly, the director was coming off a film set in a future ruled by mistrust, the sci-fi thriller “Minority Report.” The about-face was one of the aspects of directing “Catch Me If You Can” that appealed to Spielberg. “I had just finished shooting ‘Minority Report’ and was in something of a dark place. I thought this would be a breath of fresh air for me. I enjoy that whiplash sensation of going from a film like ‘Jurassic Park’ to a ‘Schindler’s List,’ and now from ‘Minority Report’ to ‘Catch Me If You Can.’ Selfishly, it was also an opportunity to work with a young actor I’ve always admired.”
That young actor is Leonardo DiCaprio, who had already been set to star as Frank Abagnale. “I have been a huge fan of Leo’s, dating back to his work in ‘This Boy’s Life’ and then ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,’ which was a phenomenal performance,” Spielberg says. “Leo is a very inventive actor and has a lot of ideas. He is also his own best critic. There were times I’d accept a certain take, and Leo would say, ‘No, no. I think there’s something I haven’t found yet; let me do it again.’ And he would invariably come up with something that was just brilliant.”

DiCaprio appreciated that Spielberg not only accepted, but encouraged his contributions. “That’s the wonderful thing about working with Steven Spielberg. He is so open-minded—not just to me as an actor, but to people in every department. I think that is part of what makes him such a great director; he brings out the best in you, and gets everybody working like a well-oiled machine towards a common goal.”

Long before he was cast in the role of Frank Abagnale, DiCaprio was a self-described “huge fan” of the book Catch Me If You Can. Years later, when he was sent Jeff Nathanson’s script, he jumped at the chance to portray the quintessential con man. “For an actor, it’s all about the art of misdirection…how, for example, Frank is able to make somebody concentrate on being asked out to dinner as opposed to the phony check he’s about to pass. I think those are fantastic elements for an actor to play,” DiCaprio states.
The actor did have an opportunity to meet with the real Frank Abagnale and relates that he still caught glimpses of the one-time con man’s innate ability to disarm you. “To look at him, you wouldn’t think he could steal a postage stamp. But he has an almost unconscious way of engaging you with his eyes, with his energy and with his intelligence.”

While DiCaprio offers that those subtle traits were something he tried to bring to his portrayal, he was intent on not trying to create an imitation of the real-life Abagnale. “At a certain point you draw enough information from the person, and then you have to go off on your own and create that character and let the character have a life of its own. I didn’t want to take away from the spontaneity of the young Frank going out in the world. I wanted the audience to be carried along with him on his journey of self-discovery, to see the sparkle in his eye the first time he sees a pilot looking like a movie star and being treated like royalty, or to watch his first mistakes as a pilot or as a lawyer… I didn’t want to be too perfect, because I believe Frank gets by more on his personality and charm and his ability to misdirect, rather than on being perfect at impersonating people. I think that has a lot to do with the ego of this cocky kid who thinks he can defy everyone, including the F.B.I….and, in fact, does.” Read On