Ed Carter, utahvalley360.com
Anne Sward Hansen does not mind the regular queries from people who think they know her but cannot quite place her. She does not complain about the fans who approach her in elevators, restaurants, retail stores or on the street, and speak with her as if she were an intimate friend — or a bitter enemy.
Sward Hansen does not balk at working hard. For more than a decade she worked 16-hour days in New York City to tape a soap opera that had to go on the air five days a week, 52 weeks a year. At the same time, she traveled the country as volunteer chair of the American Indian College Fund.
Inconveniences like pesky fans or hard work might not bother Sward Hansen, a Highland resident who played nurse Lyla Peretti on the television daytime drama “As The World Turns” for 13 years. But ask Sward Hansen to do something she doesn’t believe in or to tolerate what she calls “corporate fascism,” and it’s another story. The dignified, socially graceful actress gets tough.
“The first lesson I teach in my acting classes is, ‘Do you know what you stand for?’” Sward Hansen says. “To be a Christian woman with values in show business is not very easy, but I did it. You just have to know when to say yes and when to say no. They respected me for that. I’m sure I lost work because of it but that’s OK. You can always find more jobs.”
Sward Hansen practices what she preaches. She stood up to television executives who planned a storyline that she felt discriminated against Native Americans. Not long after, her contract as an actress on the popular daytime soap opera was not renewed. She opted to live full-time in her north Utah County home, but the acting — and the hectic lifestyle — hasn’t come to a halt.
“I’m trying to break out of show business in a way,” she says. “I came here to relax and now I’ve been busier than ever.”
Sward Hansen currently serves as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild in Utah, and that’s a job that requires some fortitude in a “right-to-work” state. She also has been involved with a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs over the proposed nuclear waste storage site on land occupied by the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes in northwestern Utah.
On top of that, Sward Hansen teaches acting classes at Brigham Young University and privately at a studio in her home. She is part of an effort to develop a sequence of film acting classes at Showtime studio in Pleasant Grove.
Perhaps what she likes to do most of all, though, is spend time with her husband, Bob, and their daughter, Cori Anne, at the family’s home in the Highland artists’ community of Bull River. Sward Hansen, a New York City native, never tires of the beauty of the Wasatch Mountains.
“For me the beauty never stops,” she says. But, “I’m worried about the development — not keeping open spaces and losing animal habitat.”
Sward Hansen does not affiliate herself with a particular political party but rather calls herself a “public advocate.” She is just as comfortable fighting the nuclear waste industry and corporate greed as she is speaking out at a Highland Town Council meeting or visiting a Native American reservation.
Sward Hansen completed an undergraduate degree at Emerson College in Boston before moving on for a master’s degree at the University of Miami, where she began to do professional voice work and eventually began singing professionally in rock-and-roll bands from Florida to California.
She tired of that scene, though, and moved into television and film. While working in Los Angeles in 1980, she met her future husband, Bob Hansen, a Clearfield, Utah, native and construction contractor. Sward Hansen joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1981 and, not long after, she landed the part on “As The World Turns.”
Even before joining the cast of “ATWT,” Sward Hansen admired Dr. Bob Hughes (played by Don Hastings) and so playing his love interest on television was a unique experience for her. While with “ATWT” from 1981 to 1994, Sward Hansen suggested storylines about topics, such as combating teen alcoholism and living wills, that interested her. She even did a little writing and singing on the show, and she had her daughter, Cori, written into the script before Cori was even born.
Cori appeared on the show periodically until age 6. “We got a headstart on her college fund,” Anne said.
Eventually, though, the long workdays and the politics involved in the show wore on Sward Hansen. The family purchased a house in Highland in December 1995.
Now, Sward Hansen would like to use her experience and her contacts in the industry to help build Utah and Latter-day Saint film traditions. She appeared in director Richard Dutcher’s film “Brigham City” and hopes more niche films like it are made. Rather than simply criticizing Hollywood, she said, those who desire wholesome entertainment should get involved in the positive projects that are going on.
“Put your money where your mouth is,” she says. “If you want to see better films, you have to support those kinds of films.”
Even though she isn’t a current character on “As the World Turns,” Sward Hansen still gets identified with her character, Lyla. Sward Hansen, though, is the consummate professional and she handles fan inquiries with patience. But she might get just a little upset when real health care professionals want to talk about “ATWT.”
“I want my nurse to take care of me, not to talk about the show,” she said.
Edward L. Carter covered Utah County news for three years at the Deseret News. He is now a third-year law student at BYU.