Call it the acting challenge of his career: Robert De Niro, the man famed for his unforgettable portrayals of Italian mobsters, is now set to play an Irishman.

The Oscar winning actor will return to one of his preferred genres with Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in the upcoming film The Irishman.

The new film tells the story of Frank 'The Irishman' Sheeran, one of organized crime's most feared assassins, based on his own account taken from Charles Brandt's 2004 book 'I Heard You Paint Houses.'

The film will be directed by Martin Scorsese who is said to planning to turn it into a two-part epic, with help from Schindler's List screenwriter Steve Zaillian.

If it goes ahead, the Irishman will be the ninth collaboration between DeNiro and Scorsese on the big screen, previous outing have included Good Fellas, in which DeNiro played a Italian-Irish mobster, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver.

DeNiro told the press: 'We have a more ambitious idea, hopefully, to make it a two-part type of film or two films. It's an idea that came about from screenwriter Eric Roth to combine these movies into a certain kind of biographical or semi-biographical type of Hollywood movie.'

In spite of growing up in a predominantly Italian neighbourhood in Philadelphia, Sheeran was of Irish and Swedish descent, and he was dubbed 'The Irishman' by the locals. The nickname stuck.

Sheeran was linked to the deaths of mobsters Jimmy Hoffa and Crazy Joe Gallo for decades before his death, and he gave his side of the story in the book, which Brandt released in 2004.

In the book Brandt explains that Sheeran told him 'paint a house' is the term for killing a man. Sheeran died in a nursing home in December 2003 - and in 2008 De Niro and Scorsese began planning the film.