Lexicographers’ eyes are rolling at the prospect of a movie about the Oxford English Dictionary with Mel Gibson in the role of the dictionary’s editor and Sean Penn as an early contributor to the project. The story from Rolling Stone yesterday, “Mel Gibson, Sean Penn Slated to Star in ‘The Professor and the Madman’: Oxford English Dictionary creation story heads to the big screen”:
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.