'It feels like maybe this is the best series we have done'
ITV2 comedy Plebs is back and its stars Tom Rosenthal and Ryan Sampson talk to Georgia Humphreys about enjoying their return to Ancient Rome
Mix together three young men desperately trying to climb the social ladder, the colourful setting of Ancient Rome and plenty of naughty humour and what do you get? ITV2 comedy Plebs, that's what - and it's back for a fourth series.
The new episodes kick off with the lives of Marcus (Tom Rosenthal) and Grumio (Ryan Sampson) being thrown into turmoil by the sudden departure of fellow Pleb, Stylax. But, then, dippy blond builder Jason arrives and they decide opening a new bar as a trio could be their chance to finally make it in the big city.
"It feels like a new direction that it's all going in," reveals Sampson (32). "It's a big reboot series. I'm really relieved, personally, that I'm watching it going, 'Ah, it's really good!' It feels like maybe the best series we've done."
The biggest change this series has to be Jonathan Pointing joining the cast as Jason.
"I'd seen Jon's Edinburgh show and I thought it was absolutely amazing," says 30-year-old Rosenthal, who also stars in Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner. "We had a few chemistry readings with a number of actors and we were anxious to know who would be the new guy. But we know that they're very good at casting and I think they found the most talented guy out there - he's a brilliant actor."
Another new face to Plebs is Robert Lindsay, who dons a toga to play crooked property developer Crassus. And London-born Rosenthal reveals the My Family star was "really experimental". "The director told us that when he first said he was going to do it, he wanted to impersonate Donald Trump, or something like that," he says with a puzzled laugh. "He's very, very creative. He's great." Episode two sees the Plebs trying to get their new bar and restaurant, The Crown and Toga (which, hilariously, has been built in an abandoned toilet) off the ground. And this is where Ollie Locke's character comes in.
The 30-year-old TV personality, who has starred in Made in Chelsea since 2011, plays Aloysius - who deems himself above visiting the establishment, until he realises Rome's foremost food critic has given it a very favourable review.
"I didn't want to f*** it up, that was the main thing," Locke exclaims when asked if he was nervous going onto set in Bulgaria. "I've been acting a long, long time, but that was always a minor worry. I was like, 'I'm sure I'll do okay'. But having to learn lines again was weird. It's definitely a new challenge from what I was used to."
And the flamboyant star, who was actually born in Southampton, really enjoyed getting into his character - a version of a trendy east London hipster.
"They wanted him to be a bit posh, I assume gay and a bit ridiculous - that's where it came from. It's a fairly well-stereotyped, very trendy side of me. I don't usually wear a gold necklace."
After the initial nerves, Locke really enjoyed doing something different on screen - and it's clear from their joking around when we meet that he, Sampson and Rosenthal had fun filming together.
"For me, especially, settling into reality stuff the last seven years, it's quite nice to go back to even sillier stuff, where it's not talking about my own love life," he adds with a smile.
As well as the Plebs' foray into the world of food and drink this series, there's an episode where they get free tickets to a spa, which they then decide they're never going to leave, so hatch a plan to use it as a squat.
So, all the usual fun and games then?
"I think we've been doing it for so long now that it becomes a bit second nature," remarks Sampson, when asked about getting into the headspace of the role. "So, these characters we play, we know how they'd react in any situation."
However, the Rotherham-born actor divulges Grumio has evolved over the show's run.
"The first series, Grumio was really placid all the time and then it was really funny, but it has a finite life. I had to make him a bit more front-foot and kooky in certain situations, so it's become a different sort of character."
Is it nerve-racking deciding to take a different approach with a role?
"It is a bit actually," Sampson admits, before recalling scenes in the bar in which head-chef Grumio gets, well, rather angry.
"It felt like a different edge to the character, which is exciting to be doing in series four, to be pushing it forward a bit."
Plebs, ITV2, Monday, 10pm