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The Colorful 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<

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