Catch Me If You Can may not have been completely faithful to Frank Abegnale Jr.’s memoir, but it did feature an appearance from the real con artist.
Catch Me If You Can is based on the autobiography of real con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr., and he has a brief cameo role in the dramatization of his own life story. Although it often seems too unbelievable to be true, Leonardo DiCaprio’s scene-stealing performance as an imposter and forger is based on a true story. The real-life Abagnale did pull off incredible scams like those in Catch Me If You Can, which he detailed in the memoir he wrote with Stan Redding. In honor of his inspiration for the movie, he has a short cameo in one pivotal scene.
The real Abagnale did get captured by the French police and later went to work for the FBI. He has had a long and successful career as a security consultant, so he was available during the time of the movie’s production, though he did not consult on the film. Despite his lack of involvement in the creation of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, Abagnale has stated he approves of the movie, even though the film took creative liberties with his story. Nevertheless, he did meet DiCaprio on the set of the film, and he was offered a cameo role.
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During the scene where DiCaprio’s Abagnale is arrested by the French police, the real Abagnale appears as the police officer escorting him away. Abagnale said he was not in favor of doing a cameo, but the production team insisted. They cut his hair, dressed him the police hat and coat, and sent him out to perform in the scene. It’s a blink-and-miss-it role, but it did give him the rare chance to arrest himself, and he’s not the only actor whose cameo in Catch Me If You Can was hard to catch.
Despite the real Abagnale’s participation in the scene, the arrest was one of the film’s creative liberties and did not happen the way it appears on screen. Abagnale did not have a close relationship with a particular FBI agent while on the run. Tom Hanks’ Carl Hanratty was a conglomeration of multiple agents, though the main inspiration was agent Joseph Shea, who tracked and later worked with Abagnale, but did not want his name used in the film. Rather than being brought in by Hanratty, Abagnale was actually reported to the French police by a flight attendant he used to date. The FBI had no part in the arrest. It may not be the most accurate film, but it still cemented DiCaprio’s Abagnale as one of the greatest movie con artists.
The real Frank Abagnale’s cameo adds a touch of realism to the scene even while it departs from his own narrative. However, Abagnale has also admitted his own memoir was exaggerated at points, as his co-author’s main goal was to tell a good story, so he didn’t hold the film’s creative liberties against the production team. He asked moviegoers to view it only as a film and not a documentary of his life. Accurate or not, the high-stakes action of Catch Me If You Can still makes it one of the greatest crime films.
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