Rick Mercer, The Borgias earn Geminis

The CBC's Rick Mercer Report has been named best comedy, while international co-production The Borgias has won for best drama at the 26th annual Gemini Awards.

The CBC's Rick Mercer Report has been named best comedy, while international co-production The Borgias has won for best drama at the 26th annual Gemini Awards.

The Geminis for the best in Canadian television were given out at a gala in Toronto on Wednesday evening  with comedian Russell Peters warming up the crowd and performances by Jim Cuddy, City and Colour, Deborah Cox and Kellylee Evans. The show was televised on CBC.

Rick Mercer Report, a half-hour program that spoofs the daily news and drops in on Canadians at work and play, has been running since 2004. This is its second win for best comedy — the first was in 2009.

The Borgias, the sexy historical drama based on the life of Pope Alexander VI and the Borgia family, premiered on Bravo last season. The kudos for best drama is the fourth Gemini this year for the series, which also earned a best direction award for Canadian helmer Jeremy Podeswa.

Tracy Dawson, who stars in Call Me Fitz, won for best performance by an actress in a continuing leading comedic role. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A second season of the series, starring Jeremy Irons, François Arnaud and Canadian Colm Feore, is soon to debut. Producer Sheila Hockin, part of the group that also worked on The Tudors, said TV viewers are fascinated with both the history and the characters.

"We worried at first that the Catholic church would object to this portrayal of the Borgia papacy, but that doesn't seem to be the case," she said.

Call Me Fitz, the HBO comedy about an unethical used car salesman that dominated Gemini nominations this year in its second season, also picked up an award. Tracy Dawson, who plays Meghan, won for best performance by an actress in a continuing leading comedic role.

Meghan is sister to Jason Priestley's car salesman character and just as debauched, alcoholic and abusive. Dawson said she loves the "hilarity and dirty nonsense" of the show which begins shooting its third season in Nova Scotia in a few weeks.

The series has already garnered six trophies, including best director, best writing, best supporting actor and best supporting actress in a comedy in the untelevised Gemini ceremonies held ahead of Wednesday night's gala.

Priestley was overlooked for best comic actor. That honour went to Peter Keleghan, who plays the uptight dad on the CBC sitcom 18 to Life.

'Bittersweet' win for 18 to Life

Keleghan said the win was "kind of bittersweet" because 18 to Life has been cancelled. "It's not the icing on the cake; I was thinking that it might be the dirt on the coffin or something. It's over and it's done and I'm glad some part of it is celebrated," he said in interviews backstage.

The best actress in a drama award went to Michelle Thrush of Blackstone. The APTN series about a chief trying to make a difference on a troubled reserve won two Geminis.

A delighted Michelle Thrush, who has a role in Blackstone, holds her Gemini for best actress in a drama. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
Thrush dedicated her award to Gordon Tootoosis, the aboriginal actor who died earlier this year. She said Tootoosis had encouraged her to act while she was just a teen and was scheduled to appear on Blackstone at the time of his death.

She also spoke of the "dark journey" she took in the first season playing an alcoholic character who hits bottom.

"When I got the scripts I was in tears – I didn't know if I could go to that kind of darkness and the shame it took to relive something I've seen my own friends go through," Thrush said.

'Honest, real stories'

But the show has hit a chord with native viewers, she said. "It's honest and real stories from our own people. It's about time we tell our stories from our own point of view."  

Callum Keith Rennie of police procedural Shattered won best actor in a drama and James Duthie won best host on a sports program for NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft.

Callum Keith Rennie won best actor in a drama for his role in Shattered, in which he plays a man with a personality disorder. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
Rennie said he did a lot of reading into dissociative identity disorder. The premise of Shattered is that his character suffers from the disorder, which brings out multiple personalities, because of a past trauma.

"We were trying to find a place that would have realism for someone suffering from D.I.D," he said.

Rennie said he worked with the writers to try to define each of the characters he plays – not just by different behaviour, but also by different intelligence, language skills, walk and pacing. His newest role is in the series The Firm, now being shot in Toronto.

The 2011 Geminis marked a new set of favourites for the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television — shows such as The Borgias, Shattered, Blackstone and Call Me Fitz are new to Gemini glory.

New historical series Pillars of the Earth and The Kennedys each earned three awards at an earlier Gemini gala, while Flashpoint, which has dominated the awards for the last few years, also earned three.

Geminis for news, documentary and information were given in an award ceremony last week, with CBC earning four awards for documentaries, two for the National, two for The Fifth Estate and one for Marketplace.