Depp to play Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa

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Johnny Depp is to star as Pancho Villa in a new Emir Kusturica biopic about Mexico's 19th-century bandit-turned-revolutionary, Spanish media reported Wednesday.

Playing opposite Mexico's Salma Hayek, the 46-year-old Depp will trade the swashbuckling antics of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series for the part of General Villa, El Pais newspaper quoted the Serbian director as saying.

Shooting on the film is to begin early next year, split between Mexico and the Granada region of southern in Spain, said Kusturica, who is said to have hesitated between Depp and the Spaniard Javier Bardem for the part.

An emblematic figure from the 1910 Mexican Revolution, Francisco "Pancho" Villa (1878-1923) took up arms alongside Francisco Madero and later Emiliano Zapata, fighting against conservatives to found modern-day Mexico.

Based on a book about the Mexican hero by the US writer James Carlos Blake, the Depp film will tell his story "through the eyes of his friends and the woman he loved," Kusturica said.

Companion to French singer Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two children, Lily-Rose, 10, and Jack, seven, Depp was last month voted the sexiest man alive by the US magazine People.