A rather, um, explosive collaboration is coming together. Actors Mel Gibson and Sean Penn are teaming up to star in a new film together, aptly named Professor and the Madman. The project is taking shape at Voltage Pictures, the studio behind Dallas Buyers Club, and tells the true story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, which is far stranger than fiction. In 1857, Professor James Murray set about compiling the Oxford English Dictionary, and he fielded more than 10,000 entries from one Dr. W.C. Minor, who just so happened to be an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
Gibson first secured the rights to Professor and the Madman back in 1998, the year he fielded two Oscar wins for Braveheart, and while it was initially poised to be a directing vehicle for Gibson, THR reports that he’s now handed over the reigns to his Apocalypto co-writer Farhad Safinia, who wrote the screenplay.
Minor served as a surgeon in the United States Civil War, and the horrors witnessed there triggered his delusions and paranoia. Things took a tragic turn when he fatally shot and killed a man he believed had broken into his room, but it turns out was simply a father of six on his way to work to support his children. Minor was found not guilty by reason of insanity, resulting in his incarceration at an insane asylum where he took up the task of contributing to Murray’s work on the OED. His health continued to deteriorate, however, and he at one point cut off his own penis as a result of delusions that he was being abducted to perform sexual assaults on children. His contribution to the OED, however, was gargantuan.
Gibson will be playing Murray in the film, while Penn is in talks to play Minor. It’s unclear how soon filming might begin as the project is due to be shopped at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival, but it marks a curious project nonetheless. Gibson is coming off of his first directorial project in over a decade, Hacksaw Ridge, which opens in theaters this fall.