Sean Penn is in early talks to board Mel Gibson’s long-gestating Professor and the Madman, an adaptation of Simon Winchester’s bestseller about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Gibson has been working to adapt the book for the best part of two decades. Voltage Pictures has come on-board to finance and sell. Gibson’s Apocalypto writer Farhad Safinia, who also penned the script, will direct. Bruce Davey, Gibson’s longtime partner at Icon, is producing.

Mel Gibson

Although he’s no longer directing. Gibson will play 19th century professor James Murray, who started to compile the Oxford English Dictionary. Penn will play Dr. W.C. Minor, who contributed thousands of entries to the hugely ambitious literary project but also was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

Gibson is on his way to an image rehabilitation. His buzzy World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge debuts this fall, starring Andrew Garfield as American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa and became the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Gibson also stars in the pulpy thriller Blood Father, which world premiered at Cannes. He is repped by Rick Nicita.

Penn remains one of America’s most respected and celebrated character actor-cum-leading men, even if his latest directorial effort The Last Face endured a critical beatdown following its Cannes premiere. He is repped by CAA.

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