A villager with a purpose: Sanya Peterson takes part in LDS film

Photo courtesy Sanya Peterson
Sanya Peterson was transformed into a Lamanite villager for a recent production about the story of Ammon from the Book of Mormon. Peterson noted being part of the film was “monumental.”

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

Sanya Peterson has been a nurse, a fencing instructor, a party-goer, a Colorado tourist and more — as an extra in TV shows and movies.

But no film work has meant as much as her most recent stint as a Lamanite villager in an LDS Motion Picture Studios production of Ammon, a story within the Book of Mormon.

“It was really amazing,” she said, adding, “It was really fun.”

Peterson started doing extra work when “Hostiles” filmed in the area in 2016 and a number of area residents went to Chama to work as extras.

“I always like dressing up and such,” Peterson said, noting she also read something Angelina Jolie wrote once that referenced the actress being paid to dress up. “And I thought, I want to do that.”

After working as an extra on “Hostiles,” which had put out a casting call for extras in Pagosa Springs, Peterson found out there is a lot of filming in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, N.M., and a lot of opportunity to work as an extra.

“I pretty much jumped on the Facebook pages that are requesting casting, and so I’ve been in a couple different things,” she said.

Peterson also served as Mother Hubbard in a local stage production of “Shrek”in 2014 -— something else on her bucket list.

“That was kind of my first kick-off. I remember my family would be like, … ‘We think it’s great that you’re doing things you’re not really good at,’” she laughed, noting she loved it. 

But none of the work has meant as much as being a Lamanite villager, someone in the land of Ishmael, in a series about the Book of Mormon.

That, she explained, is because the recently produced videos will serve as a teaching tool on the Book of Mormon for decades to come, and they gave her a chance to take part in sharing what brings her peace.

Peterson noted that a friend had told her she would be a good Lamanite, and she signed up with the LDS Motion Picture Studios to receive notices if they were doing productions again.

That opportunity came when the studio began filming stories from the Book of Mormon.

Peterson noted there are already short movies about several Bible stories — Noah and the Ark, Moses and more.

The Book of Mormon, Peterson explained, is another witness of Jesus Christ and confirms the truth found in the Bible, and is the records and recordings of the people in the Americas.

“We, as a missionary tool, wanted to create films — and most of them are like 15- to 30-minute films — that kind of recount the whole Book or Mormon so that we can teach others,” she said, noting the films will be used for probably the next 20 years.

Though Peterson didn’t even apply for a speaking role, her preparation began a year before production.

A year before production, they told her to start growing her hair out and stop having it trimmed. Then, closer to the production, they told her to stop plucking her eyebrows, and closer still they told her to stop if she was doing anything to whiten her teeth.

Then, two weeks before the production, Peterson found out she was selected for a particular film and was given the dates to be at the production studio in Utah.

“They also told me to tan, but I didn’t tan enough,” she said, and they put coloring on everyone serving as villagers.

The story, she explained, is in the book of Elma. Sons of a king, instead of becoming king, had an experience and chose to be missionaries traveling the land.

One, Ammon, a Nephite and follower of Christ, ended up in the land of Ishmael, a land of ferocious people with no religious concept, she explained.

Ammon was captured by Lamanites and became a servant to the king, befriending him and eventually converting the king’s household and the kingdom.

Peterson noted the testament is about bringing God’s love to others, making us better people, that we’re not alone, the purpose of life and more, and is prophets who recorded their history.

“We can use it to our friends to teach them what we feel is the gospel,” she said, adding, “These little movies will be used throughout our church for quite some time, so it was a really big thing to be a part of. … I really had a blast.”

Peterson further noted that the production is one of her favorites she’s done so far, with everyone being kind.

She also noted that taking part in something she believes so deeply in was big.

“It was monumental, actually. It’s hard … I’m not out there to just convert my friends … and I think that sometimes people think that of us. But it’s more of sharing — it’s sharing what has brought you peace, it’s sharing why … I have peace, is because I feel I know the purpose of life. I know that we’re here to serve others, I know that we’re here to … give others what we feel, … I guess that gives us peace and makes us comforted, and kind of knowing that we can return to him.”

While other movies and series she’s taken part in have been fun, they served different purposes.

“This one was more of helping others feel God’s love for them, you know, which is what I feel a lot of people need nowadays. They need to know that they’re loved, that they deserve love, that … they have that in this life. I think that’s what gets them through, honestly,” she said.

She noted it also shows you can repent and that there’s mercy for things they’re beating themselves up for and a way to move forward in this life with peace.

“It was a very spiritual experience,” she said of the production.

Peterson plans to take part in more filming with the studio, though filming was put on hold due to COVID-19.

She also has plans to continue working as an extra elsewhere in the area when filming resumes and hopes to take part in a “highly dramatic” music video when able.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I really do.”