Voltage Pictures, the company behind ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ is backing the film about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. After nearly two decades, Mel Gibson is ready to bring the best-seller The Professor and the Madman to the big screen and has enlisted Sean Penn in the effort.
Gibson, who acquired the film rights to the Simon Winchester book back in 1998, is poised to star opposite Penn, who is in negotiations, in the true story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary — a tale that delves into madness, genius and two obsessive men who changed the course of literary history.
Though Gibson had long developed Professor and the Madman as a directing vehicle, he has handed the reins to his Apocalypto writer Farhad Safinia, who is set to direct the film. Gibson will play Professor James Murray, who in 1857 set about compiling the OED, one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. Penn will play Dr. W. C. Minor, who submitted more than 10,000 entries but was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. Safinia wrote the screenplay, while Todd Komarnicki and John Boorman penned an earlier draft.
The film brings together two heavyweights, Gibson and two-time Academy Award best actor winner Penn, who have never worked together despite coming of age in Hollywood around the same time. Gibson made his film debut in 1979’s Mad Max, while Penn appeared on the scene two years later in 1981’s Taps. Both men also frequently direct, and Gibson has two Oscars to his credit for directing and producing Braveheart.