Silk's Billy Lamb may be as hard as nails on the outside but he's a loveable softie on the inside. As the hit legal drama returns, Neil Stuke tells Albertina Lloyd why the character's complexity is just one of the things he loves about him.
Courtroom drama Silk isn't just about the legal battles and sexual tension between Rupert Penry-Jones and Maxine Peake's lead characters, Clive and Martha.
The team at Shoe Lane chambers is like family, with plenty of dramas of their own, and at the heart of the clan is senior clerk Billy Lamb, played by Neil Stuke.
The climactic end of series two saw the lovable rogue almost lose his job after he accepted a bribe to give a defendant a false alibi. Although it was revealed to be part of an elaborate plan to ensure a trial collapsed, the new series sees Billy under the cosh of new practice manager Harriet (Miranda Raison).
"She's a pain in the arse!" exclaims Stuke. "She seems to be brought on board simply to p**s Billy off.
"It's an out with the old, in with the new sort of thing, and certainly the real-life clerks I know have a very difficult relationship with their practice managers."
So how was it having Spooks star Raison join the team?
"She's just horrible! She's a really unpleasant lady so it makes her absolutely perfect for the part," Stuke jokes. "No she's great, just delightful. And a very good actress who strangely seems to be able to slip into playing that role very easily," adds the 46-year-old, chuckling.
The end of the last series also saw Billy diagnosed with prostate cancer, a storyline inspired by the show's writer Peter Moffat, who lost his father to the disease.
Stuke has since become a campaigner for the charity Prostate Cancer UK.
"Peter's father died during the first series from prostate cancer. The guys at Prostate Cancer UK were very quick to pick up on it and I've become an ambassador, and try to do as much as I can on their behalf," says the actor, adding that viewers will see a change in Billy.
"He's becoming more emotional with his cancer treatment. You're seeing a man who's presided over chambers for so long; you're now seeing him suddenly attacked on two fronts, by prostate cancer and the practice manager."
Stuke joined the series back in 2011 in a supporting capacity, but Billy's sense of humour has earned him a legion of fans and a more prominent role.
"I see Billy as a bit of a Jack the lad, really. A bit of old fashioned jollity," he says. "He can be a fairly dangerous individual if he wants to. He's more Machiavellian. You never quite know what he's thinking, which is what I enjoy."
A successful character actor, Stuke is a familiar face of stage and screen.
He rose to fame after taking over the role of agoraphobic geezer Matthew in the hit Nineties comedy Game On.
Since then he's worked in comedy and drama, in shows including The Bill and Reggie Perrin, the Reginald Perrin reboot with Martin Clunes.
A private man who doesn't like to talk about his personal life (he has two children with wife Sally-Ann), he does claim to be the life and soul of the party among the Silk cast. But unlike the real barristers and clerks working in London's Inns of Court, they don't spend all night drinking in the local wine bars to wind down when they clock off.
"I try and encourage as many people to come and drink with me, but very few people do," Stuke admits, laughing. "I don't know what it is. Perhaps they're a bit scared of what kind of constitution Billy has!"
When he isn't working, he's cooking at home.
"I cook all the time, every day. That's my therapy," says Stuke, who took part in the 2010 Celebrity MasterChef.
The show's judge, John Torode, and actress Lisa Faulkner who won that year's series, are now in a relationship - and Stuke's suspicious.
"I was horrifically robbed from the title of MasterChef by Lisa Faulkner and John Torode becoming a couple," he teases. "I don't really think that should be happening on a major BBC television programme, should it?" he remarks in trademark deadpan humour before bursting out laughing.
The self-confessed foodie even owns a farm shop, Franklins, in South London.
"My father was a chef and I come from Kent, the garden of England, so I thought it only right," he says.
He's rarely to be spotted there, however. "It's best I stay away really, because I just seem to get in the way there and people get cross with me..."
With Silk in the bag, Stuke, who appeared in a production of Boeing Boeing at the end of 2007, is now considering a return to the stage.
"There are a few plays being talked about and a few shows, but nothing concrete. If nothing happens I'll just go out to Los Angeles!" he quips.
But he clearly loves living in the capital, particularly when he gets to enjoy rare moments of peace and quiet, such as the historic Inns where Silk is filmed.
"[I love] The beauty of walking around The Temple on a Sunday and being almost completely alone," he says, sighing dreamily. "Very few people go through there on a Sunday, just the odd tourist who looks a bit bamboozled by it all."
While Silk allows viewers a glimpse into that very old and mysterious world, where barristers still wear wigs and gowns as they make pleas for people's freedom, Stuke believes it's not just that which draws viewers in.
"All the best dramas, from Shakespeare onwards, are the judge and jury dramas," he says. "That's the basis of all great drama, where the audience becomes the jury. It's intelligent drama, it makes people think and it's dialogue based.
"In other words, you're using your brain."
Silk returns to BBC One on Monday, February 24, at 9pm.