The actress's Across the Hall collaborator says she was hardworking and happily married

By Suzanne Zuckerman and Stephen M. Silverman
Updated December 20, 2009 06:00 PM
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Credit: Anthony Dixon/WENN

Brittany Murphy, who died Sunday, costarred in the indie movie Across the Hall, directed by Alex Merkin, who was still absorbing the shocking news about his leading lady when he spoke to PEOPLE on Sunday afternoon.

“This is all very shocking. I’m trying to wrap my head around it,” said Merkin.

Among his observations: “She was incredibly, incredibly hard-working and dedicated and obviously very talented. Even when she had a lot of things going on in her life, she was always there.”

At the time Across the Hall, which received a limited release, was premiering in Los Angeles and New York, Murphy, 32, had just returned from a movie set in Puerto Rico, where she and that production parted company.

Despite stories in the press that she was let go from the movie for disrupting the shoot, her rep said, “She was not nor has she ever been fired from any job big or small … [due] to creative differences Ms. Murphy and the production mutually parted ways.”

According to Merkin, “At the premiere of the film, which was two days after she had flown back [from Puerto Rico], I just remember she was going through a lot at the time surrounding her husband [British writer-director Simon Monjack] being in the hospital.”

There were also stories over the past few years that Murphy herself had health issues, or even a problem with substance abuse. Merkin said that at the time they filmed Across the Hall in February 2008, “To the best of my knowledge she seemed like she was in totally fine health.”

He also said, “She loved to sing on set. She was honestly very much about business. Very quiet and kind to everyone around her and ready to get at the center of what we had to get done, what we had to accomplish. I would say that she was focused on her tasks when she got to set. And she was sweet and nice to people.”

As for Monjack’s hospitalization, “I don’t fully know what was going on, I only know what I had heard about in the news,” sad Merkins. “She didn’t leave her husband in the hospital [to come to the L.A. premiere of their movie]. I know that he had been released from the hospital, and whatever she was dealing with at home, she had already signed up to come and support the film.”

He also said Murphy was dedicated to her marriage (she and Monjack married in 2007) and to the thought of having a family. Was she very much in love with her husband? “Yes,” said Merkin. “To my knowledge, she was very, very, very much in love with him.