04/23/2009 at 02:00 PM EDT
Liam Neeson's return to the Canadian set of Chloe
just days after saying his final goodbye
to wife Natasha Richardson was a "harrowing experience" for all involved, says the movie's director.
"He called me and said, 'You know let's do it right away.' It was really emotional," Atom Egoyan tells ET Canada
. "I think the only way he could have come back was right after because his family was all there to support his boys."
"Liam is heroic," adds Egoyan. "He came back and finished."
Neeson, 56, who has signed on for his first movie role
since Richardson's death
at age 45, is still "in a state of shock," says Egoyan.
"I think he's trying to absorb [what's happened] ... He's suddenly a single parent with absolutely no preparation for that," says the director.
But Neeson, he adds, "is surrounded by people that really love him. There is a lot of support."