Mel Gibson and Sean Penn may act together for the first time in a forthcoming adaptation of The Professor and the Madman, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The book, written by Simon Winchester, tells the origin story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Gibson is a longtime fan of Winchester’s tale: he acquired the rights to the bestseller in 1998, the same year it was first published in the U.K.
Gibson is slated to portray Professor James Murray, who oversaw the creation of the O.E.D. starting in 1857. The Hollywood Reporter suggests that Penn is “in negotiations” to appear opposite Gibson in the role of Dr. W. C. Minor, an important early contributor to the dictionary. Minor has a colorful backstory: a former surgeon in the U.S. army, he was locked up in an insane asylum during the period when he furnished Murray with more than 10,000 dictionary entries.
The screenplay for The Professor and the Madman was written by Farhad Safinia, who will also direct the film. Safinia has worked with Gibson before: the two co-wrote Apocalypto, which hit screens in 2006.
Both Gibson and Penn have been of busy in recent years. Gibson directed Hacksaw Ridge, which arrives November 4th, while Penn oversaw The Last Face — the film debuted at Cannes earlier this year, starring Charlize Theron and Javier Barden — and the music video for Mudcrutch’s “I Forgive It All,” which featured Anthony Hopkins.
The Professor and the Madman does not yet have an official release date.