Stephen Colbert Covers EW as Gandalf, Bilbo and Legolas

At one point during the photo shoot for this week’s triple-cover Entertainment Weekly issue, which took place about a month ago, Stephen Colbert stepped through the doorway of a Manhattan studio. In full Gandalf costume and makeup, with a megaphone in hand, he tried to get the attention of folks streaming across the nearby High Line. “You shall not pass!” he exclaimed. ” Excuse me, excuse me… You, on the bridge. Read the sign. You shall not pass.”

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For super fans of The Hobbit, the mission this week is clear. Starting Wednesday at newsstands in New York, LA, other major cities and airports, and by Friday in the rest of the country, three copies of the same EW issue can and must be purchased. (They are also available online.) Colbert revealed his Hobbit EW handiwork on Tuesday night’s Colbert Report. The fact that these covers, together with a cover story and interview of Peter Jackson both done by Colbert, are coming down the pike as his Comedy Central program wraps up only adds to the collector’s edition context.

“The way that they distribute these [multiple] covers is that they alternate them in the actual stack on newsstands,” explains EW editor-in-chief Matt Bean to FishbowlNY via telephone. “There’s cover one, then cover two, then cover three, then cover one, and so on.”

“We vary the print run, depending on the issue. Double Issues are a little more. But this was treated as a traditional issue.”

The spark for the Hobbit-themed Colbert issue was lit at San Diego Comic-Con. “Some of our more ambitious covers were beginning to gain traction,” Bean recalls. “People were starting to realize what could be done, like Kevin Spacey dressing up as Julia Louis Dreyfus, and vice versa, for the 25 Best Characters on TV package.”

Colbert hosted a Comic-Con panel with Jackson about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Chapters, due in theaters next week. This coincided with EW‘s early thinking of how they were going to treat coverage of the film series’ final chapter.

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“Because The Hobbit characters are so beloved, we said to ourselves, ‘How can we do this in a way that people are not expecting?'” explains Bean. “I can tell you, having been on that photo set [that’s Bean above, with “Gandalf”] and spoken to him and also the folks involved, that it was probably one of the most fun days of Colbert’s life.”

“This was an opportunity for him to just have fun, as a super fan,” he adds. “And that’s what our readers want, more than anything. They want that super fan’s perspective.”

Costumes from the actual films were flown over from New Zealand to New York for Colbert to wear as Gandalf, Bilbo and Legolas. EW photo editor Michele Romero got to walk around in possession of an authentic copy of The Ring.

“To watch Colbert go through these transformations was an amazing experience,” marvels Bean. “We felt the makeup was so good that we had to make it [the cover line] even bigger than we normally would, just to let people know it wasn’t actually Bilbo.”

[Images provided by: Entertainment Weekly]

Previously on FishbowlNY:
EW Editor Matt Bean Previews the ‘Fall TV Preview’ Issue