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Though Cassidy Gifford's father didn't live to see the final cut of the young actress' latest film, he knew how meaningful it would be.
Cassidy, whose mother is TODAY's Kathie Lee Gifford, was in the thick of filming "Caged No More" when her dad, Football Hall of Famer and broadcasting icon Frank Gifford, died last August at 84. The movie, which came out Jan. 22, shines a spotlight on the world's fastest-growing crime: human trafficking, which preys upon more than a million children every year
"When I first went to do the film, my dad said, 'This is one of the most important things you'll ever do, because you'll start a conversation,''' Cassidy told TODAY.com. "I wish he could be here to see it, but I know he's looking down, and hopefully proud."
Inspired by real events, "Caged No More" is about a woman who enlists a former Special Forces soldier to find her two granddaughters after they are kidnapped by their sinister father. Cassidy plays one of the abductees.
The Giffords have paid attention to the issue since Cassidy was a child. When she was 13, she accompanied her parents to a religious service where they heard testimony from a girl her age who had been involved in human trafficking.
"People shrug it off, believing it's a problem for other countries, but it's widespread right here in the U.S.,'' Cassidy told TODAY.com. "I remember seeing girls who were involved who were my own age and telling stories of running away from home, getting hooked on drugs and having no place to go to get out of what is a form of modern-day slavery."
The movie, which also stars Kevin Sorbo, Cynthia Gibb, Alan Powell and Loretta Devine, includes several intense scenes during the global quest to save the girls.
"I felt this huge weight of responsibility to do it justice,'' Cassidy said. "I was just flooding my mind with dark things to get to that place of brokenness on the set. It was a year and a couple months ago that we filmed it, and I still haven't shaken it off. I still think about it all the time."
The days since Frank Gifford's death have also been a challenge for the young actress. Cassidy paid her father a heartfelt tribute on Instagram a day after his death at the family's Connecticut home.
"It's been a hard couple of months, but at the same time it's been a blessing because we've been shown this insane outpouring of love from so many people,'' she said. "I was so close with my dad, and I had him for 22 incredible years. He was at every play practice, every show, and every field hockey game. He never missed any milestone in my life, and I wouldn't trade one second."
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