He made us believe in man-eating rubber sharks, Reese's Pieces-munching aliens and digitized dinosaurs, so really it should come as no surprise that Steven Spielberg closely identifies with Frank Abagnale, the born liar whose nine lives are chronicled in the biopic Catch Me if You Can (opening Wednesday). "When I read the script and the book," the director tells TV Guide Online, "I thought, 'I have one moment in my life when I did what he did.'"
And how. The summer after his mom and dad divorced, the future helmer of Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park made a pilgrimage to his holy land Los Angeles. "I snuck onto the Universal Studios lot dressed as an executive," he reveals. "I think the divorce of my parents empowered me to risk imprisonment for trespassing and being an imposter.
"I so wanted to be a director that the passion led me to break the law," he continues. "I was there for three months. I couldn't get on movie sets because they always had closed sets, but I got on every TV show. I watched Leave It to Beaver being shot, Wagon Train... "
To pull off his grand bluff, Spielberg first had to perfect his poker face. "Everybody asked me what I was doing there, and I would always say, 'Well, I know somebody in the executive offices,'" he recalls. And when the chips were down, he could always pull out the ace up his sleeve his camaraderie with a certain security guard. "Scotty was this great Scottish guy," his old pal relates. "Every single year after I became a director, I would send him Christmas and birthday presents, and when he was sick, I paid for his medical bills, because he was the guy that let me on the lot."
Although Spielberg's chosen career took him down a somewhat different path than that of con artist extraordinaire Abagnale (played in Catch by Golden Globe nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), the real McCoy still gives props to the neophyte fabulist. "It was pretty cool little scam," sums up Abagnale. "He got to know the guard so well, the guy thought he just worked [at Universal]. [Spielberg] obviously didn't want to do anything that would really break the law, but he had an ambition to get on the lot, and he did."