Observations from his Live Performance in Sing Street and What It Means for Season 2 of The Wheel of Time
This article contains spoilers Sing Street and for the Wheel of Time book series through Fires of Heaven.
One of the greatest mysteries of Season 2 of The Wheel of Time is how the recasting of Mat Cauthon will play out, with Dónal Finn replacing Barney Harris in the role. Fans knew about the recasting before Season 1 even aired, but information about Dónal is scarce, and he's rarely seen on social media.
Aside from a couple short quotes from Rafe Judkins (via Empire and Deadline) and a few glimpses from Instagram darlings Priyanka Bose and Madeleine Madden, WoT fandom has seen no news or official word on Dónal Finn from Prime Video—no behind-the-scenes glimpses, no interviews or articles. It became an inside joke that fans would only ever see the Irish actor in cropped sections of blurry photos.
Speculation, of course, runs wild about the reasons for the dearth of Dónal. Is it to build suspense? To avoid reopening old wounds or upsetting newer fans who may not know about the casting change? To gear up for a big Mat reveal in the teaser trailer? (Please drop said teaser trailer at the NYCC panel next week.)
As eager fans try to predict what Dónal might be like as Mat, there isn't much to go on. So far, the most Mat-like footage of Dónal is from an interview for the play, Chasing Bono, which features a glimpse of Dónal’s dimples and mischievous smile.
But Dónal was 4 years younger in that interview and looks more like the Mat who just released some badgers onto the village green—not exactly the smile that screams you’ve suffered childhood neglect from messed up parents and are now about to resort to dark means to get back to your sisters.
Just when it seemed like all hope was gone that present-day Dónal would make an appearance before Episode 1 of Season 2, WotSeries's expert creeper, Geeky Eri, reported that he was performing in the musical Sing Street (based on the 2016 movie) at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston.
To anyone living in the near vicinity of Boston, the message was clear: go find Dónal and report back to the poor, deprived fandom with whatever drops of information you can gather.
So it was that my friend and fellow Dusty Wheel moderator, Anas, joined me in tracking down the elusive Dónal Finn last Tuesday night. The two of us are always down to do elaborately nice things for the fandom, so this kind of adventure was totally on brand for us. It was for research, we said.
The night turned out better than we ever dreamed, and not just because of Dónal's performance. After the show, we found ourselves shaking hands and having a pleasant conversation with the actor, who, despite our fantasies of him being surrounded by bodyguards holding off a hoard of fans, was just a regular guy, heading home from work.
I once believed I would never get over the loss of Barney Harris and that the recasting would be jarring. I’ve participated in many a discussion with others who have similar worries as to what the change in such a central character might mean for The Wheel of Time.
I am here to tell you that Dónal Finn wiped every single one of those worries away. His performance was absolutely delightful, stunning at times, and extremely promising for Season 2 Mat.
I haven’t reviewed Dónal’s previous work, but based on his performance in Sing Street and the short interaction we had with him, I am now confident that he will nail the role and charm the fandom. I adore Barney Harris's Mat, but I am 100% sold on Dónal and ready to move on.
While I can’t guarantee that anyone else (except Anas) will feel the same, here’s 10 reasons I think you will love Dónal Finn in The Wheel of Time.
1. His Portrayal of Mat-like Qualities
Sing Street takes place in 1980's Dublin and follows the adventures of Conor Lawlor (Adam Bregman), a teenage boy who forms a band to impress a girl. It’s a coming-of-age story about music as an escape from the realities of family conflict and high school bullying. Dónal Finn plays Conor’s older brother and musical mentor, Brendan.
Brendan has a lot in common with Mat. In a nutshell, Brendan's character arc is that he struggles with darkness and addiction which isolate him from others, but he uses humor and charm to get by. Eventually he overcomes his problems in order to support his more serious brother before finally accepting his own talents in a victorious grand finale. Sound familiar?
Brendan spends most of his time smoking weed on the couch and listening to music, seemingly content, much like Mat, to help from the sidelines yet coming through when it really counts. And while he doesn’t get into any mischief himself, Brendan readily encourages his brother to do so, persuading him to do whatever it takes to stand up to bullies, get the girl, and live his dreams.
Source: Priyanka Bose's IG Story
As Brendan pushes aside his own mental health challenges to support his brother, Dónal skillfully conveys that Brendan is feeling one thing while showing another. This suggests that Dónal will be able to bring nuance to Mat’s many layers of emotions, even when he’s lying to himself.
At the end of the show, Brendan finally peels himself off the couch and does a very Mat-like thing: reluctantly sacrifices his own comfort in order to help others. It has the feel of Mat doing what it takes to protect the vulnerable, even if it means inconveniencing himself.
So, can Dónal play Mat? In Sing Street, he basically did.
2. His Range
Given the similarities between Brendan and Mat, and the realities of the entertainment industry, it's likely that Dónal was cast for his ability to play that type of role. But Dónal has the range to be so much more than the troubled but charismatic prankster rogue.
The second act of Sing Street reveals Brendan's softer, more vulnerable side. In a particularly memorable monologue, Brendan describes his unhappy mother’s habit of sitting outside in the sun until it goes behind a tree in their yard.
Dónal delivers this speech with just the right amount of sentimentality without going overboard. His eyes glisten with a hint of tears as he stares up into the stage lights, looking, as the character Raphina would say, "happy-sad."
In just a couple short hours, Dónal proves he has the range to do just about anything, from a big, screaming breakdown of rage and regret (“Once, I was a f***ing jet engine!”) to a quiet, painful moment (“I’ve never heard the house so quiet. It’s...not good”).
What this means for The Wheel of Time is that Dónal is capable of bringing depth and complexity to Mat's character—no easy feat, as we know from Brandon Sanderson's comments about the difficulty of writing Mat.
3. His Physicality
A great stage actor is someone who can take up space and use the entire stage as their playground, making big movements that read to the audience.
Dónal has mastered that skill and knows how to fully embody a character consistently, even when he isn’t the main focus of a scene. Whether it was delivering a passionate monologue at the precipice of the stage or sitting at a table with family in the background, Dónal’s physicality always entertained.
Then there was the The Couch. During a musical interlude between scenes, Brendan, high AF, stumbles, tumbles, and slides all over a 1980’s plaid sofa while his sister, Anne (Alexa Xioufaridou Moster), attempts to take a joint away from him.
Dónal probably has some dance training, based on the graceful and purposeful way he moves, playing off both his sister and the couch, which moves and rotates along with the two of them, almost like a third dancer.
Anne is visibly frustrated and concerned for her brother, but Dónal’s languid stoner smile is so fetching, you kind of hope Brendan gets to keep the joint. In fact, you wish Anne would just leave Brendan alone with The Couch, because Dónal was really having a moment with it.
Ben Wang, Alexa Xioufaridou Moster, Dónal Finn, Adam Bregman and Elijah Lyons in Sing Street
The dance concludes with Dónal in a melting, full body slide from the top edge of the sofa, down the cushions and onto the floor that can only be described as HOT. You can try listening to my poor man’s description of The Couch here, but if you need your mind blown, I would recommend getting a ticket to Sing Street before it closes.
While Dónal won’t necessarily need to make stage-sized movements on screen, Mat needs to move more than any of the other main boys. Perrin is slow, Rand is uptight, but Mat is quick, slippery, and fluid. He needs the physicality to dance with tavern servers, run from pursuers, escape from tricky situations, toss dice with flair, and, most importantly, fight.
If Dónal can move that gracefully while high on a couch, imagine how he’ll look dancing the spears with Couladin…
4. His Face
Dónal Finn in the 2018 short film, Angel
Dynamic stage acting is one thing, but what about the nuance of facial expression required to make an impact on screen? Our seats were close enough to see that Dónal has mastered that, too.
Over the course of a couple hours, his face changed constantly, sometimes in very subtle ways, to fit the mood and add depth to both his dialogue and the quiet spaces in between.
One of the most impactful changes in Dónal’s face comes after Conor asks Brendan why exactly he never leaves the house. Before he answers, Brendan’s face crumples with agony as he turns away from Conor in shame. It was gut-wrenching.
On the flip side of that, we saw about 20 different versions of Dónal’s lovely smile, each one with a different feeling conveyed in his eyes. The best one, though, is Dónal’s biggest, face-splitting grin and the deep and crinkly eye wrinkles it creates.
5. His Feet
Yes, feet. Clad in socks for most of the show, Dónal’s feet became a noticeable extension of his character’s personality. It was truly bizarre how often his feet drew attention, especially considering the cuteness of his face.
From supporting his graceful dance moves (see: The Couch), to the way they slid around in excitement as he chased Conor around the room, Dónal’s feet had a life of their own.
Dónal Finn, Billy Carter, and Adam Bregman in Sing Street
The best Dónal-feet moments happen whenever Brendan sits down with Conor. Brendan is almost always positioned in such a way that his feet are touching, near-touching, gesturing towards, or resting on his brother. It was a cute and subtle way to show their level of intimacy and comfort with one another, while also conveying Brendan’s quirkiness.
Dónal’s feet were so charming, it would almost be worth it to see Sing Street for that reason alone. As it stands, we think his feet are more than ready for Mat’s boots.
6. His Musical Talent
In Sing Street, Brendan’s acoustic guitar is mounted on the side of the bookshelf containing his records and record player. Throughout the story, he does just about everything with it— holds it, talks to it, caresses it, lays his head against it—everything except playing it. It makes you wonder if Brendan can actually play.
Luckily, Chekhov’s gun fires, and Brendan finally strums the guitar and sings at the end of the second act. It was worth the wait, because Dónal gave a knockout performance.
Dónal Finn in Chasing Bono
Dónal knows his way around the acoustic guitar, not to mention the inexplicably sexy fact that he plays left-handed. His voice, warm and full, is perfect for the hopeful, triumphant “Go Now.” When the chorus joins in, isn’t hard to imagine Dónal as Mat, leading the Band of the Red Hand in a raucous soldier song or two as they march.
7. His LFG Energy
Dónal Finn has a charisma and enthusiasm that I can only describe as "Let's F***ing Go" energy. Whether it was dancing to “Take on Me” by A-ha, waxing poetic about the genius of The Cure, or cheering on his little brother as he crosses the sea, Dónal as Brendan conveys the kind of pure and uninhibited joy that makes you want to stand up and join him.
Dónal's LFG energy is so much a part of him, it radiates from him even when he is the background of a scene. From the first time he appears (sorry, Anas, for violently grabbing your arm) to his closing musical performance, he sparkled every time he stepped on stage. It was genuinely uplifting and not at all glib.
Source: Madeleine Madden's Instagram
Based the LFG factor, Dónal will likely play a lighter, more traditionally Mat-like Mat than Barney Harris did. I like a sad boy as much as anybody, but it's probably for the best—most Mat stans do not mention “emo” as one of his primary qualities. But if you're worried about continuity, Dónal seems to have the acting chops to maintain just enough darkness and edge to make it a smooth transition.
Showrunner Rafe Judkins has already hinted that Dónal may bring a lightness to Mat’s role in The Wheel of Time, more reflective of his personality after being fully Healed from the Shadar Logoth dagger. In a post Season 1 interview with Empire, Judkins described the transition from Barney Harris to Dónal Finn as “bizarrely similar to what happened to (Mat) in the books.”
Coincidentally, a review of Sing Street pointed out the same phenomenon between the show’s original, Broadway-based Brendan (Gus Halper) and Dónal’s.
According to the review, Halper’s Brendan was “restrained” up until he finally lets loose in the finale, but “Finn gives Brendan a manic energy…His performance is a force that propels the show forwards, keeping dreams alive even in his most hopeless moments.” In other words, LFG!
It’s thrilling to think about Dónal's Mat bringing that same energy to hopeless moments in The Wheel of Time: bowing to Egwene, rescuing the damane, fighting the gholam, the Last Battle—I'm crying already.
8. His Ensemble Work
If Dónal was aware that he stole the show, you would never know it. He threw himself into his interactions with other characters, fully attentive to them, stepping back when it was their turn to shine, and never once breaking character, even when he was in the background of a scene.
And while it could just be Dónal playing Brendan’s character and not Dónal himself, it’s hard t