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'Basically, you're playing horrible people.. we try to humanise them'

There are lots of comedies, but not many as clever as Plebs. Georgia Humphreys meets stars Tom Rosenthal and Jonathan Pointing

Jon Pointing, Tom Rosenthal and Ryan Sampson in Plebs
Jon Pointing, Tom Rosenthal and Ryan Sampson in Plebs

By Georgia Humphreys

There's something irritating actor Tom Rosenthal. We're sitting in the ITV offices, chatting all things Plebs - the ITV2 comedy about a group of young men trying to climb the social ladder while living in ancient Rome. But he can't take his eyes off a picture of himself and co-stars Jonathan Pointing and Ryan Sampson, which is on a screen in front of us.

The reason? The tunic he's wearing is too short.

"Look at the length of the dress!" exclaims the London-born star (31), who's also known for Channel 4's Friday Night Dinner.

"You can clearly see too high up my thigh, compared to the other Plebs!"

Now that he's got that off his chest, let's find out more about the upcoming fifth series from Rosenthal and his co-star Pointing.

At the end of series four, the Crown and Toga - the wine bar that the Plebs run - burnt down. So, they've used that as an excuse to give the place a nice refurb.

"But, apart from that, we just picked up where we left off really," elaborates Rosenthal, who plays ambitious, yet hapless, Marcus.

"They're a year older. I'm still in this sort of, 'Will they, won't they?' on-off thing with Gloria (played by Ellie Taylor). And, yeah, I'm just trying to make as much money from the bar as I can."

"It didn't feel like we were in the bar as much this year, did it?" suggests comedian Pointing, who joined the show last series as laddish, dim-witted builder Jason.

He's right. This time round, storylines in the Bafta-nominated sitcom include Marcus, Jason and the feckless Grumio (played by Sampson) crashing a banquet, pursuing an illegal archaeological dig and embarking on a wine-buying trip to Tuscany.

"The vineyard was all filmed in the woods," recalls Rosenthal.

"That was exciting. Although we all got stung by mosquitoes."

Asked about what they like most about their characters, Rosenthal answers candidly: "I suppose I sympathise with Marcus's sort of constant neurosis, but also general sense of entitlement. We share a quality of thinking we're very smart, but not being as smart as we like to think we are - or like to present ourselves as. And, yeah, just generally worrying about any sort of social situation.

"I think it's quite nice to be able to play someone who just voices those things."

The star adds that he can "almost tell when a scene has gone well, or when I've really enjoyed what I've done, when I feel awful during it".

"It's quite odd, I've had a few scenes with the parents and the pressure of upsetting someone, or something going wrong. And, if you have that horrible feeling inside you, then it kinda feels like, 'That's what I want to do'.

"I feel like I can tap into the general neuroses I have naturally and just sort of turn them up a little bit, I suppose. I quite like that. I mean, I don't think it's great for your mental health."

The other battle of Plebs, he continues, is "that you're playing basically horrible people" (between them all, they've killed a lot of people).

"They're really bad people, but our job is to make them human and obviously, on some level, likeable." In previous episodes, there have been some standout cameos and this series is no different.

New faces to look out for include a pair of high-society aristocrats, played by Amanda Holden and Tracy Ann Oberman, and an archaeologist (Blackadder's Tony Robinson).

Meanwhile, Kevin Bishop takes on the role of Jason's brother and Christopher Biggins joins as an escort agent.

Discussing whether they socialise with the guest stars off-set, Pointing muses: "It depends. Sometimes the guest stars, depending on what the schedule is, can have quite a lot of time off to go off and do stuff. This year was quite relentless."

Rosenthal nods: "Amanda Holden came and went in like two days - she did all of her scenes and seemed to be having this hectic celebrity lifestyle, where she was doing nine things at the same time.

"Kevin Bishop stayed for the whole weekend and we had a trip to the swimming pool and stuff."

Plebs is shot in Bulgaria and from what Pointing is saying, it sounds like it's a pretty intense filming schedule.

"Some people (guest stars) are there and they sort of slightly lose their minds, because they're like, 'I could have done this in a couple of days', but they're there for a week because of schedules - it's such a big operation.

Fans of Plebs will be pleased to hear the humour is as naughty and ridiculous as ever, with the characters' escapades usually ending in humiliation.

We'll see Jason and Grumio both develop side-hustles; the former becomes a male escort, while the latter invents a hands-free parasol called the Grumbrella.

"When we do the read-through and we're reading through, it's almost like...," Pointing struggles to find the right words, instead just grimacing at what his character gets up to. "Especially as I'm supposed to be this kind of like sex-obsessed character. All the storylines, I'm just like, 'Please, come on!' It just sounds so awful!"

So, how do the witty pair find watching episodes back?

"Last time, we did a couple together," says Pointing. "This time, the turnaround has been so quick, from filming to them coming on, but last time there was quite a big gap, so it was kind of like going through photos or something.

"It's like you go through the memories, it's quite nice."

Rosenthal doesn't like watching his work on screen by himself "because that is mad".

But he's found it's maybe not always a good idea to make other people watch your shows with you, either.

"One episode of Friday Night Dinner I wanted to watch when it was first on TV - I tend to watch them when they go on TV.

"I was with this girl I was dating and she subsequently said that was the most self-indulgent thing she'd ever seen, that on our second date I was like, 'Oh, do you mind if we just watch this?'"

Plebs, ITV2, Monday, 10pm

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