| Leonardo DiCaprio (left) and Tom Hanks in Berlin to promote their new film Catch Me If You Can. (AFP)
Conman Frank Abagnale dreaded seeing his teenage life of crime being recreated by Hollywood — but, much to his surprise, it worked out fine.
And for Leonardo DiCaprio, it was a dream come true playing one of the world’s most infamous tricksters. Sitting side-by-side at a London news conference to publicise the release of the crime caper Catch Me If You Can, both agreed they had a ball on the Steven Spielberg movie.
Abagnale, who even played a cameo role in the tale of his own extraordinary life, admitted: “I didn’t want to see the character glamorised. I didn’t want to have to relive all the things I did as a teenager over again.”
“I went into it thinking it would be a very negative experience. It turned out to be very positive,” he said after the surreal experience of seeing his outrageous life of crime played out on the silver screen. His tale truly is one of fact being stranger than fiction.
Between the ages of 16 and 21, he successfully posed as an airline pilot, an attorney, a college professor and a paediatrician. He cashed $2.5 million in fraudulent cheques across the US and 26 other countries. It started as a game of survival when he ran away from home after his parents’ divorce. It turned into a cat-and-mouse game with the FBI. It ended with jail sentences in France, Sweden and the US. Now as poacher turned gamekeeper, Abagnale lectures to the FBI academy. As a consultant on hi-tech crime, he is rated as one of the world’s top authorities on forgery and embezzlement.
DiCaprio, who shot to fame in Titanic and became an instant heart-throb for teenage girls around the world, admitted that he came a poor second in the charm stakes to Abagnale, now a 54-year-old father of three sons.
“I wouldn’t compare my own abilities in the world of charm to Abagnale’s. I think he far exceeds me in that department. Not only did he have more charm than me, I think he had more guts.”
“He came onto the set one day and started telling stories about his past to a couple of the crew members,” DiCaprio recalled.
“Then the whole cast and crew took a spontaneous lunch break listening to this man telling his stories.”
Speaking before the London premiere of the Spielberg crime caper, there was no doubting his affection for the Abagnale part: “This is one of the best characters I have ever seen written on a page. It’s a dream-come-true role for anyone.”