While it’s not surprising to learn that Mel Gibson’s secured the movie rights to a novel titled The Professor And The Madman: A Tale Of Murder, Insanity, And The Making Of The Oxford English Dictionary, it is a little odd that he didn’t call dibs on the latter role. But according to The Hollywood Reporter, Gibson’s upcoming adaptation of Simon Winchester’s bestselling novel will see him play Sir James Murray, a real-life lexicographer and philologist who served as the OED’s primary editor for nearly 40 years. Winchester’s book delves into Murray’s work with on the dictionary, which saw him “crowdsource” for help on some of the entries.
Gibson’s tapped Farhad Safinia, his Apocalypto co-writer, to direct the adaptation, while pondering an October start to filming. And after having presumably won a coin toss, Sean Penn has been cast as Dr. William Chester Minor, the titular madman. Minor became one of the most prolific amateur contributors to the OED, collaborating with Murray for 20 years. But the former surgeon carried on this work from the asylum he’d been committed to after murdering a man in London in a fit of paranoia. Minor was actually a far more sympathetic figure than Penn is likely to make him: As a Union Army surgeon, he witnessed the atrocities of war. He also suffered from dementia for most of his adult life. But Penn will probably find a way to reduce the character to tics and outbursts.