Actor Stanley Tucci at a special screening of "The Hunger Games" on Tuesday. On Thursday, Tucci testified on Capitol Hill. (Evan Agostini/AP)

In the movie, which opens Friday and has advanced sales in the millions, Tucci plays the over-the-top interviewer, Caesar Flickerman, sporting a bright blue wig and colorful suits.

The good sports on the House Appropriations subcommittee probably would have enjoyed that get-up, but the award-winning actor was low-key in a charcoal gray suit, white shirt and his signature bald style.

“I want the committee to increase NEA to $355 million. I’m sorry, that’s $155 million,” said Tucci, punctuating his serious delivery with a wry tease.

A number of public advocates Thursday asked the committee, which has jurisdiction over the budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution and other federal cultural agencies, to stabilize their funding.

The NEA target for fiscal 2013 is $155 million. The NEH has about the same request.

Tucci had an appreciative audience. “Unfortunately, art is not a thing easily defined. It is amorphous, interpretive and subjective. If it weren’t, it would be mathematics. Now, imagine us all going to the theater on a Saturday night and watching someone solve mathematical equations for 2 1 / 2 hours. No, thank you, I’ll just meet you at the party afterward,” Tucci said. The fans and arts supporters in the hearing room laughed in agreement.

The actor has appeared in more than 50 films and more than a dozen plays, on and off Broadway. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role in “The Lovely Bones.” Making “Hunger Games,” he said, outside the hearing room, “was great fun.”

Even with his resume, linguist Deborah Tannen also presented an enviable list of accomplishments. She traced the research and time she put into her 22 books, three of which were New York Times bestsellers, work now translated into 31 languages, to the early support she received from the NEH.

“Scholars who do research like mine — approaching language as a humanistic enterprise, a matter of human beings talking to each other in their daily lives — have few places to turn other than the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Tannen said.

Then she added her own kicker, tracing her NEH support to finding love. “It was at the NEH-supported Institute for college faculty which I directed in 1985 that I met my husband,” she added.