Actor thrown into the ring to learn matador's art

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The Hollywood actor Adrien Brody is to learn bullfighting for his forthcoming screen role as Spain's most famous matador, Manolete, who was gored to death in 1947 at the peak of his fame.

Shooting of Manolete starts in March in the protagonist's home town of Cordoba, and tells of his turbulent love affair with the voluptuous actress Lupe Sino, played by Penelope Cruz. But before cameras roll, the Oscar-winning star of The Pianist will prepare to portray yet another sensitive, slender genius by retiring to an Andalusian estate to immerse himself in Spain's taurine world.

The actor, who arrived in Madrid last week, has as his sporting mentor Cayetano Rivera Ordoñez, a sprig of Spain's most distinguished bullfighting dynasty, on whose family estate in Ronda are scattered the ashes of Ernest Hemingway. Cayetano, the English-speaking younger brother of Spain's top bullfighter Fran Rivera Ordoñez, will teach Brody to dress, move and think like a bullfighter, to twirl the cape in the bullring ­ and, most importantly, to stay alive. The family's involvement has helped mute Spanish criticism that the role should not have gone to a foreigner. Brody was chosen because of his striking resemblance to the doomed matador.

It's not the first time the Ordoñez family has drawn a prominent American into the world of bullfighting. Cayetano's grandfather, the legendary matador Antonio Ordoñez, became a close friend of Hemingway and inspired the writer's celebration of bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon.

In his heyday, Manolete ­ whose real name was Manuel Sanchez ­ caught the eye of another American aficionado: Orson Welles saw Manolete as a model for Don Quixote in his unfinished epic about Cervantes' hero.

Welles took Manolete to Hollywood, where the delicate stranger with melancholy eyes turned heads. "They looked more at him than at me," Welles once complained to Manolete's producer, Andres Vicente Gomez, who has been working on the project for 20 years. "Manolete will try to introduce to a younger generation this legendary figure who was not only the finest torero in history, but a personality so sharp he'd have shone in anything he did," Mr Gomez said.

The film focuses on the matador's final glory years and on his tempestuous liaison with the actress Antoñita "Lupe" Sino, who was ostracised by bullfighting society. When Manolete was mortally struck down in the ring, aged 30, Sino was prevented from rushing to her lover's side for fear the couple might marry in his dying moments. "Everyone around Manolete hated Lupe Sino, and especially his mother, Doña Angustias, who scorned her for her acting ambitions, for living in sin, and for being from a republican family," Mr Gomez said.

And he added: "Brody ... must learn what it feels like to stand facing a bull, the anxiety and respect that the beast inspires."

Brody will not actually risk the same fate as Manolete. Among Cayetano Rivera Ordoñez's duties will be to act, in the bullfighting scenes, as the star's body double.