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10 Reasons You'll Love Dónal Finn as Mat Cauthon

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.


Screenshot from an interview with Donal Finn in front of posters for Chasing Bono, pink background with a large green pick-shaped logo. The signs read "A New Comedy: Chasing Bono." Donal, in the foreground, has curly dark hair and a charming smile. The subtitle reads "My doppelganger is my best mate, Aina, from home."

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.


Banner for Sing Street, a red background with light yellow capital letters reading "Sing Street" with a smaller white subtitle: "A New Musical"

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.


Close up of the program to Sing Street, a small glossy booklet with a red cover page with yellow lettering that reads " A Joyous New Musical that Lifts you Up." Donal Finn's signature in cursive writing is on the right hand side of the program, and the Sharpie marker he used is clipped onto the front of the program.

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


Donal Finn wearing a button down green shirt and glasses sits behind a table covered in stacks of poker chips.

Source: Bobby Schofield on Instagram via Geeky Eri


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.


Zoe Robins holding a cup of coffee poses with a smirk next to Donal Finn, who stands a head and shoulders taller than her, wearing a button down shirt opened part way to show a white tee or tank underneath. He has a lazy smile and holds a Sephora bag..

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


Black and white photo of Donal Finn wearing a tuxedo, slight smile with raised eyebrows

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.


Still image from Sing Street, consisting of Donal Finn standing behind a plaid sofa in front of the costar playing his sister, who kneels on it in front of him, grasping the arm. The actor playing Donal's brother stands behind the other side couch, grasping it and looking towards their sister. A rock band plays in the background.

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


Donal Finn in the short film Angel, soaking wet in the rain, with mud on his face, confronts a male character in the foreground. His facial expression is urgent and intense.

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.


Still image from Sing Street of Donal Finn resting his elbow on the headboard of a small twin bed, with one leg bent and halfway up onto the bed. He wears a chunky green cardigan and ripped jeans. Next to him are the actors playing his father (arms crossed, uptight) and brother (one leg on bed, relaxed and looking at Donal)

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.


Still image from Chasing Bono of Donal Finn playing acoustic guitar left-handed, wearing an orange button-down, black pants, and glasses. He is surrounded by other cast members singing and playing instruments.

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.


You can listen to the original Broadway recording of “Go Now” here, or check out Adam Levine’s version from the movie, but Dónal’s rendition is the best of the three.



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.


Black and white photo of Madeleine Madden holding a bouquet of flowers in the streets of Prague, next to Donal Finn who wears a beanie hat, jean jacket, and a camera around his neck.

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 to believe there wasn’t true affection behind his eyes whenever he looked at his brother or sister.


6 people stand leaning against the side of a bridge overlooking Prague in the background. From left to right is Kae Alexander, Donal Finn, unknown blonde actress, Madeleine Madden, Marcus Rutherford, and another unknown woman. They are dressed in layers as if for the fall. Donal wears a scally cap, black coat and black pants. They're all smiling and looking happy. Madeleine holds a peace sign.

Source: Madeleine Madden's Instagram


Same with his unconditional positive encouragement of Conor as he was attempting to write his first song. Whatever ideas Conor had, however silly or seemingly simple, Brendan responded in a very enthusiastic “yes and” fashion. Dónal seems like he would be exactly that kind of team player in any production, which bodes well for The Wheel of Time’s ensemble cast.



9. His Looks


Donal Finn wearing an old fashioned tux in a warmly lit set, looking down at a small booklet and smiling. There appears to be a tree behind him.

Dónal Finn in Albion at London’s Almeida Theatre (2020)


With the aforementioned mishmash of blurry and/or outdated photos and videos, it’s been hard to get a sense of what Dónal Finn actually looks like. It doesn't matter, though, because nothing you see on a screen can convey what a beautiful human being he is in person.


The best way to describe Dónal is “adorably handsome,” with warm and captivating brown eyes and a generous sprinkle of freckles across his nose and cheeks. His curls are an indescribable shade of golden brown and arranged in a glorious mass of perfect ringlets, leaving this 2c/3a wondering about his curlygirl routine.


Donal Finn, a tall man with very curly reddish brown hair, glasses, and black face mask, looks down at a red theatrical program as he signs it with a black Sharpie. He's wearing black pants, a gray shirt, cream colored fleece vest, and an olive colored backpack.

After the show, Dónal was wearing a practical, “stout Two Rivers fleece” vest, glasses, and dad sneakers, which leads us to conclude it is literally impossible for him to stop being cute.


None of this has anything to do with his performance in The Wheel of Time, but it tells us two things: 1) if you don’t like the show or his acting, you can at least enjoy the view, and 2) we’re guaranteed to get some truly adorable BTS photos.



10. His Kindness to Fans


Donal Finn posing next to Daylin, aka Prince Adolin's Husband, in the lobby of the Huntington Theater. Daylin has red hair, square shaped glasses, and wears a black wheel of time hoodie. Donal wears his fleece vest, blue shirt, black pants, and cream sneakers combo from the previous photo of him signing an autograph.

If Dónal crushes it as Mat as much as it seems like he will, that will be pretty satisfying, but don’t we want the full package? A talented actor who is as kind and gracious to fans as the rest of the cast has been so far? It seems unlikely the production would hire anyone who wasn’t, but in case you were worried, all signs point to Dónal being a total sweetie.


When Anas and I mentioned we were Wheel of Time fans, Dónal responded with genuine excitement and mentioned how much he loved the fandom. He was very appreciative of the fandom’s support of the show, and expressed his understanding that the recasting of Mat was difficult news for a lot of fans.


Donal Finn stands between Anas and Bain & Chiad as they smile for a photo. Anas, on the left, with longish black hair, is wearing black pants and a blue "It's Time to Toss the Dice" shirt with a blue short sleeved button down over it. Donal stands with his arms behind his back, smiling with his chin up. He wears black pants, a gray shirt, cream fleece vest, olive colored backpack, and cream colored New Balance sneakers with white socks. Bain and Chiad has short wavy light brown hair and is wearing a yellow v neck sweater, blue jeans, aqua converse sneakers, and a backpack.

Dónal was charming and personable, making conversation with us as he signed our programs. He is immersed enough in WoT lore to have noticed Anas's Dovie'andi se tovya sagain t-shirt and pointed at it with excitement. (“You’re wearing the shirt!” he said.)


Dónal was humbled that we came to the show specifically to see him and asked how far we had traveled. He asked our names twice, and since he didn't actually write them when he signed, I've decided it means he genuinely cared and wanted to remember us.


It's hard to think straight when Dónal Finn is looking into your eyes, so unfortunately, we asked approximately zero questions about The Wheel of Time. We were able to squeak out that we are looking forward to Season 2, to which he earnestly replied, “I hope you like it.”

 

Sing Street is at the Huntingon until October 9. You can buy tickets here.


Bain & Chiad (she/her) is a regular contributor to thegreatblight.com and the creator of Maidens’ List, a weekly opinion column about the Wheel of Time book series, TV show, and fandom.

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