By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 7, 2011 at 9:46AM
EXCLUSIVE: Back last summer, it was revealed that Sean Penn was in talks to star in "Genius," an adaptation of the National Book Award-winning non-fiction work "Max Perkins: Editor of Genius" by A. Scott Berg. Written by John Logan ("Gladiator") (the script made the Black List back in 2007), the film would find Penn playing the legendary Perkins, a Scribner's editor who worked with giants like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe. And it appears one of the hottest rising young actors is now taking a look at the gestating film.
Sources close to the project have confirmed with The Playlist that Michael Fassbender is circling the project as well, though he isn't signed on just yet. Then again, neither is Penn who was reported to be in talks last summer (that status apparently hasn't changed and no he's made no formal deal yet). That will have to change soon as we're told the picture is gearing up to go in front of cameras this summer. Either they'll be in or out and the production will have to look elsewhere, but both actors are interested, so it's likely a matter of carving out deals.
The story focuses on Perkins' relationship with Thomas Wolfe, who's often cited as one of the 20th century's greatest writers (and is a favorite of several Playlist staffers). Wolfe was a great writer, but a notoriously undisciplined one, and the two fought constantly — Perkins convinced the author to cut 90,000 words from his first novel, "Look Homeward, Angel," and battled for two years over the length of the second. Wolfe eventually grew resentful of how much of his success was being attributed to Perkins and left the publishing house. Fassbender would be a great fit for Wolfe as the fiery, larger-than-life young author, and paired with Penn, it could be quite a formidable duo.
The film is set to be directed by River Road head and producer Bill Pohlad, marking his sophomore outing following 1990's "Old Explorers." Joaquin Phoenix was at one point eyeing "Genius" and early on, it nearly got off the ground with Lawrence Kasdan directing, but both have moved on.
While Penn remains committed to his work in Haiti, he will be seen on screen this year in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" and Paolo Sorrentino's revenge thriller "This Must Be the Place." Meanwhile, Fassbender continues to mix up blockbuster projects with more indie-minded fare, recently wrapping "X-Men: First Class," and scheduled to start shooting "Shame," the sex-addiction drama that finds him reteaming with "Hunger" director Steve McQueen.