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 FBI. He has since passed away.
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."
When Frank begins recruiting decoy flight attendants and he is announcing the girls chosen, he uses the actresses real surnames. For example, Miggy Acker is played by actress Amy Acker, Ilene Anderson is played by Jamie Anderson, and so on.
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 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.
The first cut of the film was about eighty percent 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.
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.
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.
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.
The newly filmed clip from "To Tell the Truth", that opens the movie, was based on an actual episode, in which Frank was a guest. In that episode, not a single panelist correctly guessed that he was the real Frank Abagnale, Jr.
The arrest scene in France was actually shot in Place Royale, Quebec City, Quebec. The church in the background is called Notre-Dame-des-Victoires and the bust in the middle of the place is of Louis XIV.
The scenes in the French classroom, and the library, were filmed at McKinley School in Pasadena, California. During spring break six months after the film's release, to the school administration's surprise, the production crew came back and removed all of the set pieces that had been left behind. The school had been using the props ever since filming was completed.
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.
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).
When Handratty 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.
When Frank is being extradited back to the United States, he is shown as being aboard a TWA airplane. DiCaprio would later go on to portray Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004). Hughes was, at one time, the owner of TWA and was in competition with Pan Am's head, Juan Trippe. Pan Am is the airline that Frank, in the movie, scams a lot of money and free flights by posing as one of their pilots.
When they show Frank, going to the bank for the first time cashing a check, as a phony pilot, they show a red seal 100 dollar bill being given; since he was only 17 years old, this would've made the year 1965; the red seal 100 dollar bills weren't introduced until 1966.
At 13 minutes and 13 seconds into the bonus material 'The Casting of the Film', Steven Spielberg is seen wearing a matching blue top and cap. The cap has 'FBI' written on the front in white letters. At 13 minutes and 28 seconds, Steven Spielberg is seen wearing the same shade of blue in a denim top and cap. The cap has 'E.T.' written on the front in white letters.
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 him 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.