Coen brothers illo

An illustration of Ethan Coen (left) and Joel Coen. (Ken Fallin / For The Times / December 2, 2013)

Ethan: Yes. It's the other side of the coin for us. It certainly strikes us frequently. "Yeah, wow, how did we step in … ?" [Laughs]

Joel: Yeah. We look back on our history and go, "Luck certainly had a lot to do with it." That's always a factor. Sometimes big, sometimes small.

Ethan: Again, to be honest — which we try to avoid in interviews, but we seem to be making an exception in this one— in our case, OK, sometimes we were canny, more than the movie's character, in figuring stuff out. And maybe that's part of the explanation. It's certainly not all of it. Our success is not wholly our creation.

Ambition plays a part. It's why Dylan became Dylan.

Ethan: Absolutely. But Oscar's character doesn't lack that. He wants to get somewhere.

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Joel: But there are different kinds of ambition too. Some people are very ambitious but it's not an engine. It's there latently, wishfully. And then there are people who have ambition in their metabolism, but it doesn't matter, because there are other things that aren't working. And then there are people who are utterly convinced of their own destiny in terms of success.

Ethan: They become sucessful and say, "I knew this was going to happen."

Did you know?

Ethan: Well, you know, when you're younger, you tend to believe that more just generally. People aren't given to self-doubt as much when they're young. Or maybe they just don't give a ... as much.

Joel: Self-delusion plays a part. [Laughs] But we weren't even going that far down the road in our own heads. When I applied to college, I applied to one college. And I wasn't even thinking about what I would do if I didn't get in.

There's no Plan B. It's a bit like Llewyn. He has this clear idea of what he wants, and he's not going to change his mind. That would be selling out.

Joel: Authenticity was a big deal to these singers. You didn't compromise or you're the Kingston Trio.

Ethan: Or the Brothers Four. There's a YouTube clip of them singing a song we put in the movie, "500 Miles," and you see all these kids just soulfully singing along with zero level of irony at work anywhere.

There were people singing along at the "Llewyn Davis" show.

Ethan: They sang along to "Midnight Special." I'm saying it wouldn't happen with "500 Miles." It will happen at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Have you been to a Bruce Springsteen concert?

Ethan: Sure.

Did you sing along?

Ethan: No.

Joel: If it's "Dancing in the Dark," then, yeah, sure. [Laughs]

glenn.whipp@latimes.com