Antonio Banderas will portray Hernan Cortes in Hollywood Gang's upcoming$40m Spanish-language epic Conquistador to be directed by Andrucha Waddington.

Based on a screenplay by Nick Kazan, the project charts the 16thcentury Spanish expedition that brings Cortes and his men into bloody contactwith the Aztec empire led by Moctezuma.

Gianni Nunnari of Los Angeles-based Hollywood Gang and JeffreySilver are producing and will oversee the project. Elliott Lewitt and Kazan alongwith Ryan Kavanaugh and Lynwood Spinks of Relativity Media, who arrangedfinancing, are serving as executive producers.

Wild Bunch is handling foreign sales and is in discussion withSpain's Morena Films to come aboard as the Spanish co-production partner. Productionis set to begin this year in Spain and Mexico.

"From the very first moment that I decided to do Conquistador, I envisioned Antonio Banderas in thetitle role as a return to his stellar Spanish-language acting roots,"Nunnari said.

"There is no actor on earth better suited to bring Cortes tolife and I look forward to working with him and Andrucha as the picture furtherevolves."

"Antonio Banderas in this film is a dream come true for meand for the project" Waddington added. "I couldn't imagine a betteractor for Cortes in Nick Kazan's fantastic script. I'm very honoured to be partof this Hollywood Gang adventure."

Banderas is currently editing El Camino De Los Ingleses (The Road Of The English), his second directorial effortfollowing 1999's Crazy In Alabama.

He recently wrapped Bordertown, opposite Jennifer Lopez and Martin Sheen,and will be seen in New Line's dance drama Take The Lead when it opens in North America thisweekend.

Hollywood Gang's vice president of business and legal affairsCraig J Flores and Spinks brokered the Banderas deal. Banderas is represented byCAA.