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Hi, I’m Judy Greer, and if you’re looking at my photo thinking maybe I was in your sorority or briefly dated your cousin Steve, you’re wrong. I’m a relatively famous Hollywood co-star! Yes, that’s right: I’ve played many kinds of roles—comedic, dramatic, animated, almost everything you can imagine—but the one type of character I didn’t generally get cast as was straight-up seductive. And if I was playing a minx, it was for laughs. (Google “Kitty Sanchez Arrested Development.”)

But lately, 15 years into my career, I’ve started getting jobs playing genuinely sensual characters. I’m not talking about Angelina Jolie levels of raciness—it’s still me—but I feel as if my roles and I are maturing somehow.

Judy Greer
Credit: Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

Growing up, I never saw myself as sexy, so therefore I never really presented myself that way. As a girl, I equated hotness with prettiness, and I didn’t consider myself pretty. So even though I’m happy with the way I look now (even happier after two hours of hair and makeup), I still have that disconnect in my head. I don’t see myself as innately sexy.

So, to convincingly act it on camera, I’ve had to find my inner seductress and channel her. At the beginning I had to wing it. (Much like real-life sex, there’s no instructional booklet on how to have good movie sex.) I had my first onscreen sexy sex in a film I did last summer. Before the run-through I thought, “I’m going to go for it. I’m going to be confident with the role and with myself as an actor.” I felt pretty good after my “Go big or go home” performance in rehearsal. But then the director approached me and said, “Maybe she’s not that into it.”

If I had a time machine and could use it only once, I would use it to escape that exact moment. I (poorly) tried to play my performance off as if I had been doing it as a joke. But that moment kick-started an actual sex-scene shame spiral.

Recently I was cast in another role that had some racy moments. I decided to start fresh and not let my previous embarrassment get to me. In the days leading up to my big bedroom scene, I worked out a lot, was mindful of my Taco Bell intake, and got a lot of sleep. I was ready! But then the day came, and I was still a tangle of emotions.

First off, I was nervous-sweaty and was wearing earth-conscious deodorant. (Note to self: Next time wear some super powered deodorant, like the stuff they made in the ’80s.) Then, as we were shooting, I was trying to keep the covers from falling down and showing off the strapless bra I wasn’t supposed to be wearing. To make matters worse, I was burying my head in my co-star’s neck and had to keep starting over because the director said the camera couldn’t see my face.

I felt as if I wasn’t concentrating on the actual scene because I was so worried about how I looked. I was being too hard on myself. And my armpits smelled like grass. But I managed to get through it. And I learned a few things, both personally and professionally, for next time:

1. Music (specifically, D’Angelo) Great music can really distract you from feelings of insecurity. For me, D’Angelo’s Voodoo pretty much takes the cake. I couldn’t play it on set, but I’m all about it for sexy feelings IRL. So find your sultry soundtrack and play it a lot. Like, a lot.

2. Spray tan A nice, even spray tan with a wee bit of contouring (you’ll need an actual human to help do this, not the car-wash-booth version) can hide a multitude of sins, especially those of the Taco Bell–intake variety.

3. Lighting This is of the utmost importance. I’m not just talking about in the bedroom. I’m talking the whole house/apartment/tent, wherever you find yourself living these days. Overhead lighting = bad. Lamps = good. Candles are better but also a potential fire hazard, so be mindful. I haven’t lit a candle since I saw Manchester by the Sea, but maybe you have less anxiety than I do.

Today I’m pretty convinced that if I could have at least had the spray tan, I would have felt a million times more confident on set. But the overall thing I’ve learned? To find your own sexy, you have to figure out what has previously made you feel totally alluring and then bring it back (thank you, Justin Timberlake). Summer is the perfect time to do it too. Longer days, less clothing, dewy skin, rosy cheeks, that second bottle of rosé … OK, now I’m just making another list, but you get my point. Sexy lives inside all of us—it’s simply a state of mind.

Greer can be seen on Hulu’s Casual and in War for the Planet of the Apes, out July 14.

For more stories like this, pick up the July issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download June 9.