The FBI officer who was chasing Frank, and was the main inspiration for "Carl Hanratty," was really Joe Shea. Frank Abagnale Jr. used the pseudonym "Sean O'Reilly" in his book because Joe Shea was still in the F. B. I. He has since passed away.
The story of Frank Abagnale Jr.'s exploits had one of the longest and most difficult journeys from its first pitch to its eventual production. In 1981 it was originally announced that his story would be filmed and that Frank would be played by Dustin Hoffman.
Some FBI agents did occasionally chase Abagnale, but he didn't have a relationship with any of them, and he certainly didn't call them every Christmas. As Abagnale himself points out with flawless logic: "Why would I do that? I didn't want the FBI to know where I was."
According to costume designer Mary Zophres, there were about 130 'day-players' (bit part actors) and 3,000-4,000 background extras employed, and Leonardo DiCaprio had 100 costume changes, through the film.
The first cut of the film was about 80% authentic, as quoted at the epilogue of Abagnale's book. Some scenes were corrected, added and changed as per request of the real Frank Abagnale Jr. to ensure total authenticity.
The Aston Martin DB5 that was seen in the movie was sourced by Autosport Designs, Inc. of Huntington Station, New York, a specialist exotic car dealership. Dreamworks contacted Autosport Designs and asked if they could supply a silver DB5. However they did not have one in stock and instead contacted a customer and arranged for his car to be used. The car is the same make and model used in the movie Goldfinger (1964), one of Steven Spielberg's personal favorite films.
In his biography, Abagnale says that if he wanted to "lay down a baby con," he would lie about his childhood. All the stuff about Abagnale's dad being a hustler is made up as the real Frank Sr. was not only a straight shooter, but also one of Frank Jr.'s first victims, since the kid started his criminal life with petty scams involving his dad's credit card. He once racked up thousands on a spending spree before his dad got the bill.
The opening title sequence is created by the duo Olivier Kuntzel + Florence Deygas. The "stamp style animation" lasts roughly 2 minutes 30 seconds and features silhouettes of the main characters acting out the plot of the film, even down to the smallest details. In a interview, Kuntzel + Deygas described they created this sequence by "stylistically transposing the handmade design of Saul Bass using decidedly modern means" and required that actual rubber stamps be carved out for each character featured.
According to the real Frank Abagnale, Jr., after he ran out of the courtroom, he never saw or spoke to his father again. However, Spielberg thought it would make a better story to have him communicate with his father so they left it in.
Leonardo DiCaprio was an ironic choice for the lead, Frank Abagnale was known to have resembled an adult at a young age. While in Hollywood, Leo is known for his very young appearance in spite of his age.
The scenes in the French classroom and the library were filmed at McKinley School in Pasadena, CA. During spring break, at least six months after the film's release, to the school administration's surprise, the production crew removed all of the set pieces that had been left behind; the school had been using the props ever since filming was completed.
When Hanratty arrives at Frank's room when he's about to escape with the suitcases full of money, money floats from underneath the door; which is an homage to the "floating feather" in Hanks' most popular film, Forrest Gump (1994).
The exterior shots of Miami airport were filmed at the old Ontario [California] Airport terminal. The old terminal is still standing, but it was converted to office space when the new Ontario Airport opened.
In this film, Leonardo DiCaprio pretends to be a co-pilot for Pan-Am and for his first flight he cons TWA, which was founded by Howard Hughes. Two years later, coincidentally, Leo portrayed Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Abagnale's capture in the movie is represented as a tense standoff in a warehouse where Hanks manages to con the conman. It was somewhat less dramatic in real life when someone saw Abagnale on a wanted poster and recognized him while he was shopping for groceries.
Early in the film, Frank's father wakes Frank up for school and we see several comic books lying on his nightstand, the most prominent one being The Flash. Later, when he is confronted by Carl, he uses the fake name "Barry Allen," which is one of the well known alter egos of the Flash as pointed out in the movie.