‘This Is Us’ bosses on why they keep Jack’s urn in their office

When Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger moved into their new office at the start of the second season of NBC’s “This Is Us,” they brought in furniture conducive to their individual work styles. “I love sitting at a desk and Elizabeth almost never does,” says Aptaker. “She’s always on the couch with her laptop, and I sit at this massive desk by myself.” They also filled the space with mementos to “make it [somewhere] we want to be,” Berger adds. After all, working on the 18-episode family drama has them spending as much, if not more, time there than in their respective homes.

Origin Story
Aptaker and Berger met in a dramatic writing class during their freshman year at NYU and quickly bonded over each other’s work, Berger says. They received a grant to make a pilot, which they shot at the East Village walk-up they also shared. “We were like, ‘Oh we’re going to make one thing for $10,000 and we’re going to sell it and it’s going to be the crazy next Lena Dunham story,’” says Aptaker. “That didn’t happen, but it was how we learned to work together as partners.” They keep a photo from that pilot close by even today.

But Her Email!
The first studio meeting the duo got was “through a connection of Isaac’s,” Berger recalls. She was in charge of labeling the pilot DVD they were going to leave behind, but put the label on both sides of the disc, leaving it “unwatchable.” Convinced she ruined their careers, she emailed Aptaker’s mother “begging forgiveness and trying to reassure her that one day I would do something for Isaac that would buy back this moment.” They framed and hung the email because they believe it reflects the intensity with which they approached their careers, and acts as a reminder that when one thing doesn’t work out, something else is around the corner.

38 PHOTOS
Milo Ventimiglia on 'This Is Us'
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Milo Ventimiglia on 'This Is Us'
THIS IS US -- 'That'll Be The Day' Episode 213 -- Pictured: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Fifth Wheel' Episode 211 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mackenzie Hancsicsak as Kate -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'That'll Be The Day' Episode 213 -- Pictured: (l-r) Parker Bates as Kevin, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Lonnie Chavis as Randall, Mandy Moore as Rebecca -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Fifth Wheel' Episode 211 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mackenzie Hancsicsak as Kate, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Clooney' Episode 212 -- Pictured: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Clooney' Episode 212 -- Pictured: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Number Three' Episode 210 -- Pictured: (l-r) Lonnie Chavis as Randall, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mackenzie Hancsicsak as Kate, Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Parker Bates as Kevin -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Number One' Episode 208 -- Pictured: (l-r) Logan Shorter as Kevin, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Number Three' Episode 210 -- Pictured: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Number Three' Episode 210 -- Pictured: (l-r) Niles Fitch as Randall, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Most Disappointed Man in the World' Episode 207 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mandy Moore as Rebecca -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Most Disappointed Man in the World' Episode 207 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mandy Moore as Rebecca -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Most Disappointed Man in the World' Episode 207 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Most Disappointed Man in the World' Episode 207 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The 20's' Episode 206 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mackenzie Hancsicsak as Kate, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The 20's' Episode 206 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mandy Moore as Rebecca -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Brothers' Episode 205 -- Pictured: (l-r) Parker Bates as Kevin, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- Season: 2 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mandy Moore as Rebecca-- (Photo by: Maarten de Boer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Brothers' Episode 205 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mandy Moore as Rebecca -- (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- Season: 2 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mackenzie Hancsicsak as Kate, Parker Bates as Kevin, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Lonnie Chavis as Randall -- (Photo by: Maarten de Boer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Still There' Episode 204 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson-- (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Still There' Episode 204 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, Parker Bates as Kevin Pearson-- (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Deja Vu' Episode 203 -- Pictured: (l-r) Parker Bates as Kevin Pearson, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Deja Vu' Episode 203 -- Pictured: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Moonshadow' Episode118 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jeremy Luke as Darryl, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
THIS IS US -- 'Moonshadow' Episode118 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, Jeremy Luke as Darryl -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'I Call Marriage' Episode 114 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'I Call Marriage' Episode 114 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'I Call Marriage' Episode 114 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson, Wynn Everett as Shelly -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Three Sentences' Episode 113 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Three Sentences' Episode 113 -- Pictured: (l-r) Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Big Day' Episode 112 -- Pictured: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
THIS IS US -- 'The Big Day' Episode 112 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
THIS IS US -- 'Last Christmas' Episode 110 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mackenzie Hancsicsak as 8 year old Kate, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THS IS US -- 'Pilgrim Rick' Episode 108 -- Pictured: (l-r) Parker Bates as 8 year old Kevin, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Game Plan' Episode 105 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'Kyle' Episode 103 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THIS IS US -- 'The Big Three' Episode 102 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Mini Me
Aptaker and Berger met “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman a decade ago but first worked with him on “The Neighbors” in 2013. That’s where they met actor Tim Jo, who made them a custom Barbie and Ken set of their likenesses. “It was so cool and thoughtful; they’re always on display wherever we go,” Aptaker says. The dolls also remind Aptaker and Berger of a “very happy, joyous time” in their careers, and their personal lives: Berger met her husband on set of “The Neighbors.”

Immortalized on Screen
Fogelman has been splitting his time between TV and film, including directing “Life Itself.” In his co-showrunners’ honor, he named the movie’s pivotal cancer center after them, calling it the Aptaker-Berger Cancer Center. That came as a surprise to the duo, who learned of it when Fogelman showed up in their office with the sign from production. “It’s meaningful that he knew making that movie, that would live on forever,” Berger says, admitting they have to find a way to repay him.

Dad on Display
While Fogelman has the infamous slow cooker that ultimately led to Jack Pearson’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death on “This Is Us,” Aptaker and Berger have one of the urns that hold his ashes. “For all of our props that get carried through time, there’s different aged versions of it, so there’s actually multiple urns. We have an older one,” Aptaker says. “It’s one of those objects that has so much meaning and is both sad but has this hope, too.” Theirs is empty, though Aptaker says they should “ask Milo to write something” that they can keep in it.

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Chrissy Metz and Josh Stancil
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Chrissy Metz and Josh Stancil
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 29: Actress Chrissy Metz (R) and Josh Stancil attend the Words + Music event hosted by the Television Academy at Wolf Theatre on June 29, 2017 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
PARK CITY, UT - MARCH 11: Actress Chrissy Metz (L) and boyfriend Josh Stancil attend Operation Smile's Celebrity Ski & Smile Challenge Presented By The Rodosky Family on March 11, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Chad Hurst/Getty Images For Operation Smile)
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 29: Josh Stancil and Chrissy Metz arrive at the Television Academy's Words + Music at Wolf Theatre on June 29, 2017 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 28: Actor Chrissy Metz and Josh Stancil attends the Entertainment Weekly Celebration of SAG Award Nominees sponsored by Maybelline New York at Chateau Marmont on January 28, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly)
SANTA MONICA, CA - MARCH 21: Chrissy Metz and Josh Stancil attend a party for the 20th Anniversary of the Savannah Film Festival hosted by CAA Agent Tracy Brennan and presented by SCAD on March 21, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for CAA)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Chrissy Mertz (R) and Josh Stancil attend the 25th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation's Oscar Viewing Party - Arrivals at The City of West Hollywood Park on February 26, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 28: Actor Chrissy Metz and Josh Stancil attends the Entertainment Weekly Celebration of SAG Award Nominees sponsored by Maybelline New York at Chateau Marmont on January 28, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly)
PARK CITY, UT - MARCH 11: Actress Chrissy Metz (C) and boyfriend Josh Stancil speak to Dr. Bill Magee during Operation Smile's Celebrity Ski & Smile Challenge Presented By The Rodosky Family on March 11, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Chad Hurst/Getty Images For Operation Smile)
PARK CITY, UT - MARCH 11: Actress Chrissy Metz (R) and boyfriend Josh Stancil attend Operation Smile's Celebrity Ski & Smile Challenge Presented By The Rodosky Family on March 11, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Chad Hurst/Getty Images For Operation Smile)
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