In Steven Spielberg’s slinky caper “Catch Me if You Can,” Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale, a teenage con artist who poses as a doctor, a lawyer, and a Pan Am co-pilot while forging checks. DiCaprio is exceptional in the role, displaying the charm, playfulness, and ease that allowed Frank to carry through his impersonations, while also balancing his youthful naivete and vulnerability.
But “Catch Me if You Can” is a cat-and-mouse story, and the role of FBI Agent Carl Hanratty is just as important. In an interview with Roger Ebert, Spielberg explains how Tom Hanks ended up with the role:
“Tom had read the script as a writing sample and called me and Walter Parkes, the co-producer, and said ‘Can I be in this movie? Do you think Steven would let me play the FBI agent? I really know who this guy is.’ And then Tom called me and he said, ‘Can I kinda horn in here?’ And I said, my God, what do you mean horn in? Then he called Leo and said, ‘Is it an imposition for me to be this movie which is clearly your film? You’re carrying it. Would it be an imposition upon you if I played the FBI agent?’ Leo thought that heaven had just come down to earth for him. So in a sense, Tom invited himself into the project in such a humble, beautiful way.”
It’s hard to picture the film without him.
Why he was ideal for the role
/Film writer Mike Shutt explains how Tom Hanks’ casting in “Catch Me if You Can” completely changed the story:
“The magic of ‘Catch Me If You Can’ lies in that dichotomy between the two men, though. How the two are able to connect by sharing the same sense of loneliness is the key to the film not being just fun fluff. There is not much drama if Hanratty is just some stiff without any interior life. By adding Tom Hanks to the equation, everybody knows that part is now going to be as crucial as DiCaprio’s Abagnale, and the film is forever richer for it.”
Steven Spielberg also elaborates to Roger Ebert on the emotional gravitas and commitment that Hanks brings to the smaller part:
“This is the first movie I think he’s ever been in where he has made a meal of anonymity, because he’s so anonymous for so long in the picture. He doesn’t steal any scenes; he’s not trying to out-act anybody. He’s just trying to play this pencil pusher whose own FBI agents don’t believe all this effort is worth the trouble he’s going through.”
Hanks was the ideal actor to tap into the humor and harshness that defines Hanratty’s dogged search for the young swindler. He has a stern and authoritative but loving presence — especially with that classic, comforting voice that we all know and love. Hanks brings a tenderness to the role that captures the fatherly warmth that Frank longs for. The combination of Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio’s talents in “Catch Me if You Can” is electric and sustains the thrills of Spielberg’s sleek detective story. We are grateful that Tom Hanks cast himself because he truly elevates the film.