Ann Sward Hansen: Service Is Her Role

“Ann Sward Hansen: Service Is Her Role,” Ensign, Apr. 1987, 66–67

Ann Sward Hansen: Service Is Her Role

Inside the makeup room of CBS Studio 52 in New York City, Ann Sward Hansen is turning into Lyla Montgomery, the character she has played on television for the past seven years.

Although Lyla, a nurse and mother, has changed little in that time, Ann has changed immensely. Through her conversion to the Church and her choice to live by gospel principles, Ann has learned to blend two seemingly opposite worlds.

A product of a religious upbringing, Ann and her three brothers were taught at home from the Bible and sang in the Lutheran church choir. A vivid childhood experience that was to shape and direct Ann’s life came when her father waged a life and death struggle with cancer. Ann remembers that as she sat by his bedside, he wanted records of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing night and day. “At the time I had no idea what a Mormon was,” Ann recalls. “I just knew that their singing gave him peace.”

On the night her father died, Ann said she could feel his presence leave the room. Even though she didn’t understand the experience, she felt comforted. “I knew I would see him again. That knowledge gave me a lot of peace and strength.”

Ann’s natural curiosity and her early exposure to the Bible compelled her to study many religions. But her search proved unsatisfactory and many of her questions remained unanswered.

It was her lifelong love for animals that eventually led Ann to the Church. She was working on a fund raiser for an exotic animal shelter when she met her first Latter-day Saint, Bob Hansen. Bob was running a construction company in Glendale, California, and working part-time rehabilitating and relocating mistreated animals like pumas, leopards, and lions. Ann was leading a group from New York visiting the west-coast shelter. The two were immediately drawn to each other and spent hours talking about everything, including Bob’s beliefs.

After Ann returned to New York, she started meeting with the missionaries, spending several hours a week grilling them with her questions about religion and God.

“The situation couldn’t have been more perfect. I was in New York, with lots of time to think things out and study. The more I learned about the Church, the more answers I found that I had been searching for.”

The missionaries challenged Ann to begin living the principles she was learning, particularly the Word of Wisdom. “As I did, I gained wisdom and strength,” Ann remembers. “But more than that, I found true creativity as an actress and singer. Before, I thought the only way I could create was with a glass of scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Without the stimulants, you have to resort to your true grit, without any influences except who you are, what you know, and your own creativity. It opened up a whole new world.”

As Ann tested the principles and continued learning, she decided to be baptized. But as she set, then reset, her baptismal date, the seriousness of the commitment she was making began to sink in. “I had begun studying the Church partly out of curiosity, and partly out of my love for Bob. But I realized that you can’t be baptized for anyone but yourself. That would be living a lie, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

In a few more months Ann was ready to be baptized. “The feeling of rejoicing I felt after it was over has been the highlight of my life,” says the thirty-four-year-old actress.

Three months later Ann and Bob were married. Ann describes the marriage, her second, in glowing but realistic terms. “What is unique is that we have a standard. Our relationship is built on the rock of the gospel. In my first marriage we had never talked about goals or children or our life together. Now Bob and I spend time talking, praying, and fasting.”

After the wedding, Bob left his business in California in the hands of a partner and joined Ann in New York so that she could continue her acting. The Hansens have since moved to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, about an hour and a half’s commute from Ann’s work. There Bob’s construction background has led him into a related field—the restoration and renovation of beautiful vintage homes, including their own.

Although Ann works with a group of actors whose high moral standards create a good atmosphere, she is still occasionally faced with moral questions. Once her character, Lyla, was supposed to be very drunk and abusive at a party. Not only was the scene out of character for Ann, but for the woman she portrays as well. “It was more than my own morals. The woman was going through pain in the scene, and the writer assumed that she could only express those feelings when she was drunk,” she explains. Ann was able to work out an alternate scene with the director that she felt was more appropriate.

“LDS actors often face decisions about what things they will and won’t do while playing a role,” says Ann. She handles these questions by tuning in to her inner voice. “If I don’t feel comfortable with it, I won’t do it. When you have an understanding of the essentials of the gospel, you find it natural to rely on yourself and the Lord. It gives you backbone and support that you can take with you wherever you go.”

  • Heidi Waldrop, a journalist, is a Relief Society teacher in the Manhattan Third Ward and public communications director in the New York New York Stake.

Photo by Phil Swetz