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5 Acting Lessons from ‘The Wizard of Oz’

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5 Acting Lessons from ‘The Wizard of Oz’

“The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most famous and beloved movies of all time. It is a story of an innocent little girl torn from her homeland and placed in the middle of a strange and hostile world. Sound a little bit like your journey to Hollywood?

In hindsight, one could almost surmise that author L. Frank Baum might have been a struggling actor himself at one time. Is “The Wizard of Oz” simply a fine bedtime story and fantastic film or was it an allegory forewarning and advising actors on how to manage their careers?

Here are five things actors can learn from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”:

1. To get what you want, you have to know what you want. Even though Dorothy was placed in the middle of a scary and often hostile environment, she knew exactly what she wanted: to return to her home and loved ones back in Kansas. Because she knew what she wanted, she was able to harness the information and resources needed to turn her vision into a plan and then, reality. How does this apply to actors? In my experience, the single biggest impedance to most actors' success is their lack of clear and specific goals. Many actors say their goal is to be a “working actor.” This is not actionable because it is not clear or specific. If Dorothy said, she wanted to simply “get out of Oz,” which might have seemed reasonable to her and maybe even us, her team of experts (Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow plus Munchkins and witches) might have argued over how to accomplish that because they all might have different ideas of what her goal meant. She could have very well left Oz and ended up somewhere worse, like stuck in a boiling pot in the witch's house. She might have asked, "Why am I here?" and her companions would have replied, "You said you wanted to get out of Oz. So now you're out."

2. Be kind and helpful to others. Dorothy might have had clear and specific goals, but she didn't act selfishly while on her journey. Whenever she came upon people in need, she tried to help them and didn't continue her journey until they were taken care of. Pretty soon, people/creatures, who were in her way, would lay their lives down for this little girl from Kansas. She had built an army of supporters without even trying. All she did is try to be of service to others. How can actors learn from this? Relationships are gold in Hollywood, but they are based on trust and trust is built by showing what kind of person you are, not by asking others for favors all the time. If you simply offer your services to people in exchange for knowledge and experience, and you can do it with a smile on your face, people will want to have you around and will give you more and more responsibility. Responsibility builds trust and trust leads to respect and affection. Once they like and trust you, they will do anything they can to help you.

3. Don't get distracted. Dorothy was beset on all sides with forks in the road, weird and wonderful things, which caught her eye and competed for her attention, but she never got distracted from her goal. She didn't wander off into places that weren't a part of her plan. Sure she came across some obstacles on the Yellow Brick Road, but she didn't stray from that shiny path because it led to her destiny. If actors could only create their own Yellow Brick Road, a plan that they followed every day, they would make their lives so much simpler and their careers more fruitful. Distractions only lead to...distraction. Distraction eats up time and focus. Most actors end up moving sideways most of the time because every time someone introduces them to a new marketing tool or tells them they need new headshots, they move laterally or even backwards in some cases.

4. Be the boss. Dorothy may have run into a lot of people along the way who had a lot of information and each of them might have been an expert in their respective fields - I mean who knows more about the Emerald City than the Munchknis - but only Dorothy knew what was right for her. You see in this life, and all others, everyone acts basically in their own self-interest. Even when they are giving out advice, they are acting in their interests. They might think they are helping you or they might not. Regardless, witches and fairies have their own issues and goals and dreams and Dorothy recognized that only she knew what was right for her. She never let anyone else take over her little band of misfits. She was the leader and if others wanted to follow her, that was fine but they were going to play by her rules, not theirs. If they didn't like it or couldn't get on board, hop on your broom and brush off. Actors need to understand that they are not the munchkins of the entertainment world. Actors are actually the most powerful force in TV and Film. (Ever watch a movie with no people?). They need to stop listening to others and start telling others how it's going to be. Build a team and take charge of that team. Then that team will respect you.

5. Believe in yourself. Whether she was facing down scary forests, witches, or talking scarecrows, Dorothy never doubted herself. She knew who she was, what she wanted, and figured out how to get it. While there were certainly plenty of times it would have been easy to fall down and cry and ask for help from whomever came along, she knew that would have been a mistake. She could have asked for help from the wrong person for one thing. They might have wanted to rip her off or eat her or simply misunderstood her, and she would have never made it home. Dorothy knew that only she was the woman for the job and that she could get the job done. She also knew that she had to do it with joy and love and not focus on what was behind her or anticipate what was in front of her. She never let her ego or her emotions take over what she wanted. She had no idea if she could attain her goal, but doubting her ability to succeed would certainly doom her to failure. Actors, you have no idea what you can achieve, so set your goals high and attack them with everything that you have. Give, give, give of yourself, not only for you but for others too. You will experience life at the highest level of consciousness, you will experience great joy and love and others will be so attracted to you that they will form an army of supporters that will carry you forward and pick you up when you need help. That is how life is supposed to be lived, not filled with fear and self-doubt.

Make the choice now. Choose what you want and choose to have it. It's that simple.

OK, as a little bonus and to get you guys talking, I'm having a little contest. I am offering a free Hack Hollywood wristband to the person who writes the most well thought out and insightful comment below. Get creative and get your acting careers in gear. The value of this huge prize is well over 25 cents! And you will also be the only person you know to have one, so start thinking and start writing.

David Patrick Green is a professional actor and the founder of Hackhollywood.com, a membership-based website dedicated to empowering and educating actors around the globe on how to become a professional actor. His simple, five-step approach inspires actors to be ruthlessly creative in their approach to the art and business of acting and life in general. Mr. Green has an MBA from the University of Southern California and was an international management consultant before realizing Platinum frequent-flyer status had few rewards other than boredom, bedbugs, and beer. His earlier reincarnations include working as an advertising account executive in Warsaw, Poland and he is still kicking himself for leaving the French Alps where, among other things, he taught skiing to European royalty and often simultaneously) tasted fine French wines. He has lived and worked as an actor in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto and coaches/consults to actors and businesses who want to get on the short path to success while maintaining a sense of humor. He can be reached at david@hackhollywood.com. 

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