AMBER LANCASTER GIGGLES when she explains The Hard Times of R. J. Berger, the MTV comedy that will likely pole–vault the Tacoma native from well–known pinup girl to well–known actor. Set in an Ohio high school, the show centers on nerdly R. J. Berger, a sophomore who compensates for his broomstick physique and lack of social skills with, well, what’s in his trousers. “He has a gift, you might call it, which sort of throws him into the spotlight,” explains Lancaster, who plays Jenny Swanson, R. J.’s study buddy and object of desire.

Billed as Superbad meets The Wonder Years—essentially, raunchy coming–of–age comedy with a heart of gold—Hard Times is the latest stop on a scantily clad odyssey that started in 1999, when Lancaster was a senior at Tacoma’s Franklin Pierce High School, the same year she made the Sea Gals squad. After five years of shaking pom–poms for the Seahawks, Lancaster loaded up the U–Haul and rolled down to LA, where she quickly landed a gig with Makita power tools. As Miss Makita 2005, she appeared on the company’s calendar and scooted around the country to help shill drill guns in agrarian burgs like tiny Carroll, Iowa, where she was the talk of the town. “I was on the cover of the newspaper. It was hilarious.”

Other modeling stints followed: bejeweled trophy presenter on the Primetime Emmy Awards and Showcase Showdown siren on The Price Is Right, on which she still appears and frequently jaws about Seattle sports with host and Sounders FC co–owner Drew Carey. Then she got a callback early last year from a TV audition. “I was a little scared about it. I mean, it’s pretty edgy,” she says of the Hard Times pilot script. “But at the same time it was really funny.”

A leitmotif of the show, in production now and scheduled to debut this spring, is R. J.’s constant fantasizing about Lancaster’s character. “In one episode he’s at his locker, and I’m like, ‘Hey R. J., I came to school naked today.’ And he looks at me and it’s me in just a backpack. And then he’s like ‘What?’ And I’m like, ‘Hey R. J. I said, Is it cool if I can’t make it today?’ And then I’m clothed.”