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Interview: Ryan Sampson, Plebs

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Ryan Sampson, star of ITV2 sitcom Plebs alongside Tom Rosenthal and Joel Fry, is sat in a café as we start our interview but, unfortunately, has just realised that "I can’t have anything to eat, because I’m doing that January thing of going on an impossible detox diet. Basically it’s like a raw vegan diet, so I’m pretty much eating seeds. Like chia seeds - I didn’t even know what a chia seed was a week ago."

Coincidentally, living off chia seeds probably isn’t too big a jump from the diet of the commoners of Ancient Rome, the era in which the hugely successful Plebs is set, following lives of three desperate young Roman men from the lower classes.

With series two out now on DVD, is Ryan surprised by how popular the show has become? "Because series one went down really well, you then have the worry of whether it’s going to repeat that, and part of you is thinking “Oh, maybe I need to up my game a little bit”," he says "but the producers were like “just keep on doing what you’re doing”. So, yeah, I’m really pleased it’s done so well.

"It’s really good fun to film, but really quite intense as well - like the Bear Grylls experience of film-making! We film it up on this mountainside in Bulgaria, which is subject to massively changing weather – like, one day it’ll be scorching and the next it’ll be torrential rain. We were all huddled inside this this gazebo thing around a heater at one point, and then suddenly this river just came underneath the tent out of nowhere, and it was just raining so much that it was sweeping everything down the hill! It’s fun, but it’s quite hardcore as well. I mean, I know it’s not working in the pits, but..."

Despite the environmental hardships experienced on set (although we think Bear Grylls can rest easy for now) we’re sure that, overall, the show is as enjoyable to film as it is to watch. With the boys finding themselves in hundreds of hilarious situations in each series, is Ryan able to pick out a favourite scene or two from the bunch?

"Well, at first, it was the scene in the poo pipe in the last episode – I mean, you’re reading it and you’re like “Oh, this is hilarious! I can’t wait to do this,” and then cut to an hour later, and you’re on the verge of tears covered in fake shit, which you know is fake, but your mind just can’t seem to differentiate. It’s so horrible, and it smells so bad – they made it out of old food waste, all biscuits and coffee kind of mashed together. So that looked like it was going to be fun, and then it was, well…"

Weirdly enough, we were actually going to ask if that particular scene was his least favourite: "Ah, least favourite was all the scenes after that, where the mud had caked and dried on my flesh. This mixture they used had this clay stuff in it to make it brown which had, like, a drying property, and it would dry and burn my skin. I was like “Er, guys I’m not cool with this, it’s kind of burning layers of my skin off…” and they were just like “No, it’s okay, it’s fine.” That was painful, so there’s a lot of scenes where I was just really angry! Any time that I was caked in mud, I was not a happy man."

Flesh-burning mud aside, Ryan assures us that the guys have plenty of laughs behind the scenes, some of which you can catch on the series two DVD extras. "There’s a bloopers reel of outtakes and stuff that was really brilliant. There was a time when Tom Davis got one word in a line wrong – 12 times. 12 takes in a row! And, by the end of it, I’m shaking so hard trying to keep from laughing, just like “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you get this line right?!” and you can see this real anger on his face. It’s the little things, like the pain of your co-stars, that you thrive on. Or that I thrive on, anyway."

With long hours of filming every day, it’s a good thing that the cast get along so well, but what do the guys get up to when they’re not on set? "We all stay in this brilliantly mad hotel in Bulgaria, it’s just so weird. It’s very, very swish – apart from the one bit we want to hang out in, which is called The Piano Bar. When you say to anyone there, “Oh, we’re going to hang out in The Piano Bar”, they’re like, “Why? Why would you do this?” It looks like a cross between your Nan’s house and a brothel, like chintzy carpet and leather sofas, and then mirrored walls everywhere, and really angry waitresses.

"We just spent all our time there, basically. I don’t know why, I think it’s a British thing – like, we don’t want to be in these flashy bars, we’d rather just be somewhere that smells of fags and sticky carpet."

Perhaps what makes Plebs such a fantastic show is that, even though it is set in a time period vastly different to our own, it manages to reflect the struggles that young people face today in social pressures, or climbing the career ladder. Have there been any scenarios that Ryan feels echo his own life in some way? “Like getting stuck in a poo pipe? Haha! For me, my character is sort of an escape; I’m actually quite a neurotic nerd and Grumio is like the polar opposite, laidback and feckless, so it’s a bit of an escape for me to be that way for a bit. I’d say I get more Marcus’ end of things in reality."

Be that as it may, Ryan admits that Grumio isn’t an entirely unfamiliar character for him: "Grumio is actually a mixture of a couple of people from my own family, my late Grandma being one of them – I know, it doesn’t sound like the most flattering thing! But I was doing this scene with Marcus in the first series where he says to me, “What kind of hat do you want?” and I go, “What kind are you getting?” And he goes “Erm, a pointy hat?” and I go, “Ptssh!” My nan always used to make this ‘Ptssh’ sound whenever she was basically saying, “I call bullshit on that”, and I realised that’s what Grumio was doing, and that’s where I got it from."

While the new DVD will tide us over, we’re curious as to what Ryan hopes will be in store for Grumio should a third series be given the go ahead (we’ve got our fingers crossed). "I think it’s about time Grumio had a proper sex life going on. I think he could have a girlfriend who’s either a lot like him, or like a massive imposing amazon of a woman, I think that would be quite interesting. And I want to discover Grumio’s family, because he’s an orphan. I want someone from his family to come back and find him; like, where does this odd little man come from? What’s nurture and what’s nature; is there a whole family of bowl-cut weirdoes out there, just looking for me?" We don’t know about you, but we really, really hope there is!

 

 

Plebs - Series 2 is out to own on DVD now. You can also catch Ryan in Series 2 of Up The Women, coming to BBC2 on 21st January 2015.




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