Brittany Murphy remembered as hard-working but fragile

One of the first things Brittany Murphy did when she showed up on the Oregon set of her indie thriller “Something Wicked” last June was acknowledge -- and apologize for -- her weight.

Brittany Murphy: An article about Brittany Murphy in the Dec. 22 Calendar section said that her work on the film “Something Wicked” came on the heels of making “Abandoned.” In fact, the actress first worked on “Something Wicked,” then “Abandoned.” —

“I met her on the first day she arrived [on set] in Eugene with her husband,” said Scott Chambers, a principal at Chambers Productions and an executive producer on the picture. “She looked ill, as much as 10 pounds underweight, and she’s a small person to begin with. She easily could have made an excuse not to come to work, but she didn’t. She said, ‘I’ve got to get better, but I want to do this part.’ ”

A day after the death of the 32-year-old actress, people in the film business on Monday described a woman who continued to work tirelessly even as her star-wattage dimmed somewhat and health issues began to take their toll.

Murphy spent about three weeks shooting her role as a psychiatrist in “Something Wicked,” a mystery thriller about a teenage couple experiencing eerie supernatural phenomena. Chambers noted that though the part was not physically demanding -- most of the scenes took place in an office setting -- he was nonetheless struck by Murphy’s commitment to her part given her fragile state.

Murphy’s work on “Wicked” came on the heels of another picture, a thriller called “Abandoned,” and she would follow it up this fall with a lead part in “The Caller,” the now-infamous Puerto Rico-based set where she turned up to work on the thriller but eventually parted ways with filmmakers last month, amid reports she was fired. She was also preparing to shoot a romantic comedy called “Shrinking Charlotte” in early 2010; that film may not go forward without her.

The abundance of projects showed that, while Murphy was not landing the sort of plum roles she nabbed earlier in the decade in movies such as “Just Married” and “8 Mile,” she was still working at a breakneck pace, particularly in smaller movies that often require a name star to land financing.

However, the vulnerability that had always been part of her charm seemed more pronounced in recent months.

Shawn Levy, who directed Murphy in the 2003 hit “Just Married,” said that, back then, “so much about her fragility reminded me of a bird -- a fragile, pretty bird. She was really raw emotionally in life and in work.”

In those days, however, Murphy also had a “boisterous youth” that “matched up with Ashton [Kutcher], who had a similarly raucous energy,” Levy said. She was thin, but “I don’t remember it ever being an issue. I don’t remember her being preoccupied with it.”

On Sunday morning, Murphy’s mother, Sharon, discovered her daughter collapsed in the shower of the home the actress shared with her husband, screenwriter Simon Monjack. The writer told “Access Hollywood” on Monday that Murphy’s mother “went into the bathroom because she had been in there a long time. Her mom screamed for me and I ran. Then called 911.”

Murphy was taken to Cedars-Sinai hospital. She was pronounced dead at 10:04 a.m.

On Monday, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office deferred a final decision on the actress’ death, pending a toxicology report, for as much as six weeks. Los Angeles Police Department officials, however, said an initial investigation yielded no evidence of a crime. Sources close to the investigation did say that Murphy showed signs of severe internal bleeding.

Even after Murphy’s death, her busy schedule means that a number of her films could make their way to the multiplex -- or at least the DVD aisle -- in the coming months, giving fans an almost eerie, post-mortem view of the star.

“Wicked” has nearly completed postproduction. The movie, which does not have a theatrical distributor yet, could be ready for screening at festivals and for buyers as early as the spring, though Chambers said the family’s wishes on the timing could be taken into account and result in screening postponements.

“Abandoned,” in which Murphy stars as a woman with a history of psychiatric issues who engages in a frantic search for her missing boyfriend (Dean Cain), is in a similar state of postproduction and is seeking theatrical distribution.

Meanwhile, Murphy films that have been completed continue to hover. “Across the Hall,” a micro-budget thriller that earned a small theatrical release this month, will be released on DVD by Image Entertainment on Jan. 19. A representative for Image said that the company was weighing how to market the film in the wake of Murphy’s death.

Her most recent high-profile project was supposed to be “The Expendables,” the Sylvester Stallone action picture that Lionsgate is scheduled to release in August. Murphy had been cast in the film, but her part was written out of the script before she could shoot any footage.

rachel.abramowitz@latimes .com

Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.