Mel Gibson, Sean Penn to star in 'Professor and the Madman' (Exclusive)

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After nearly two decades, Mel Gibson is finally 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 back 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 that will see Gibson playing 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.

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Mel Gibson Defends Shia LaBeouf

Mel Gibson defends Shia LaBeouf over his arrest for disorderly conduct And alcoholism

Actor Shia LaBeouf leaves Midtown Community Court after being arrested the previous day for yelling obscenities at the Broadway show "Cabaret," Friday, June 27, 2014, in New York. The 28-year-old star of the "Transformers" franchise faces charges that include disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Mel Gibson defends Shia LaBeouf over his arrest for disorderly conduct And alcoholism

Mel Gibson defends Shia LaBeouf over his arrest for disorderly conduct And alcoholism

Actor Shia LaBeouf leaves Midtown Community Court after being arrested the previous day for yelling obscenities at the Broadway show "Cabaret," Friday, June 27, 2014, in New York. The 28-year-old star of the "Transformers" franchise faces charges that include disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Actor Shia LaBeouf is followed by media after leaving Midtown Community Court following his arrest the previous day for yelling obscenities the Broadway show "Cabaret," Friday, June 27, 2014, in New York. The 28-year-old star of the "Transformers" franchise faces charges that include disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Signage for actor Shia LaBeouf's #IAmSorry art installation is seen on February 12, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
Actor Shia LaBeouf poses for photographers, with a paper bag over his head that says 'I am not famous anymore', on the red carpet for the film Nymphomaniac at the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt)
Shia LaBeouf attends the press conference for the film Nymphomaniac during the 64th Berlinale International Film Festival on Sunday Feb. 9, 2014, in Berlin. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Actor Shia LaBeouf walks through the media after leaving Midtown Community Court following his arrest the previous day for yelling obscenities at a Broadway performance of "Cabaret", Friday, June 27, 2014, in New York. The 28-year-old, who starred in the first three "Transformers" movies, was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. He's due back in court July 24. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Actor Shia LaBeouf chats with Sony pictures Classics co-presidents Tom Bernard and Michael Barker at the premiere party for "The Company You Keep" hosted by Avion Espresso at Harlow on Monday April 1, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Actor Shia LaBeouf walks through the media after leaving Midtown Community Court following his arrest the previous day for yelling obscenities at the Broadway show "Cabaret," Friday, June 27, 2014, in New York. The 28-year-old star of the "Transformers" franchise faces charges that include disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Cast member Shia LaBeouf is interviewed at the premiere of "The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman" during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)
Shia LaBeouf, a cast member in "The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman," poses for an iPhone photo on Main Street during the sixth day of the Sundance Film Festival, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Actor Shia LaBeouf attends the premiere of "The Company You Keep" at The Museum of Modern Art on Monday April 1, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
FILE - In the Sept. 6, 2012, file photo, actor Shia LaBeouf poses at the 69th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. LaBeouf debuted his short film, “Howard Cantour.com,” online on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, but unfortunately failed to credit the source of his idea for the project. LaBeouf’s short began to circulate in late 2012 at festivals like Cannes Film Festival and the Cleveland and Seattle International Film Festivals. The short, which stars Jim Gaffigan, examines the life of an anguished online film critic, which stemmed from the concept of a 2007 graphic novella by artist Daniel Clowes titled “Justin M. Damiano.” Clowes’ tale also depicts the life of a film reviewer. LaBeouf took to Twitter on Monday evening to acknowledge and apologize for plagiarizing Clowes’ work. But viewers didn’t pinpoint the connection to Clowes’ novella until its release online on Monday. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan, File)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 17: Actor Shia LaBeouf is seen on March 17, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by SMXRF/Star Max/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, Ca - June 05: Shia LaBeouf is seen on June 05, 2013 in Los Angeles, Ca. (Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: (L-R) Shia LaBeouf and Robert Redford attend the TimesTalks Presents: 'The Company You Keep' at TheTimesCenter on April 2, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Rommel Demano/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 23: Shia LaBeouf is seen on May 23, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: Robert Redford and Shia LaBeouf attend TimesTalks Presents: 'The Company You Keep' at TheTimesCenter on April 2, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: (L-R) Actor Shia LaBeouf, New York Times media columnist David Carr and actor/ director Robert Redford attend TimesTalks Presents: 'The Company You Keep' at TheTimesCenter on April 2, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Matthew Eisman/WireImage)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: (L-R) Actor James Buckley, director Fredrik Bond and actor Shia LaBeouf attend the Stella Artois hosted Press Junket for The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman on January 22, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for Stella Artois)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 22: (L-R) Actor Shia LaBeouf and director Fredrik Bond attend Day 4 of the Variety Studio at 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2013 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) Actor Shia LaBeouf attends 'The Company You Keep' Premiere at the 69th Venice Film Festival on September 6, 2012 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
COLOGNE, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 20: Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lars von Trier, Mia Goth, Stacy Martin and Shia LaBeouf attend the 'Nymphomaniac' Photocall on September 20, 2012 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Mathis Wienand/Getty Images)
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06: Actor/Director Robert Redford (R) and actor Shia LaBeouf attend 'The Company You Keep' Premiere at the 69th Venice Film Festival at the Palazzo del Cinema on September 6, 2012 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage)
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06: Director Robert Redford (R) and actor Shia LaBeouf attend 'The Company You Keep' Premiere at the 69th Venice Film Festival at the Palazzo del Cinema on September 6, 2012 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
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The film brings together two heavyweights in 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.

Voltage Pictures, the company behind The Hurt Locker, is selling the film in international territories and will likely be introducing it to buyers at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival. Gibson's Icon Pictures also is producing.

Gibson, Zev Foreman, Nicolas Chartier and Craig Flores will serve as producers.

The filmmakers are eyeing an October start date in Europe.

Gibson directed the upcoming Hacksaw Ridge, which Lionsgate releases Nov. 4. As an actor, his most recent credits include The Expendables 3 and The Beaver as well as the upcoming Blood Father for Lionsgate Premiere. He is repped by Shanahan Management and RPMedia.

Penn directed the Charlize Theron-Javier Bardem starrer The Last Face, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May. He is attached to direct and star in Flag Day, which centers on a father who lives a double life as a counterfeiter, bank robber and con man in order to provide for his daughter. He is handled by CAA and Hirsch Wallerstein.

In addtition to writing Apocalypto, Safinia created the American political drama series Boss, which starred Kelsey Grammer and ran for two season on Starz. He is represented by WME.

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